Liberty Mudslinging

[2210] Of re:liberalism and authoritarian feminism

Dear Ms. Alicia,

In replying to your letter, I will probably admit to only this: perhaps I accidentally casted my net too widely by not using enough qualification when I criticized Farrelly some days ago.[1] I qualified my statement at the beginning but later, I did away with it. I tend to do this because I typically define something early and then, purely for the sake of convenience, use concise term with the expectation that my readers will understand its meaning. For instance, when I write liberal, I refer to classical liberal and not just general liberals who may or may not adhere to the tenets of classical liberalism. Such method usually works. After reading your letter, I discover that that expectation of mine fails in this instance. I should have tirelessly used the qualification until the very end. I may have been sloppy in that sense but I am not guilty of laziness or other accusations of yours.

When I referred to authoritarian feminism with respect to the burqa controversy several days ago, it was not my intention to paint feminism as authoritarian as a whole. I am merely referring to a strain of feminism that is authoritarian. Feminism as advocated by Farrelly clearly belongs to a strain of authoritarian. The litmus test for this is simply her call to use state power to ban the wearing of burqa.

You are right how a political belief such as feminism, or any political belief for that matter, is diverse and complex. Contrary to your assertion, I am well aware of that. The presence of diversity however does not negate the fact that the call for the ban of burqa has been based on feminism, whatever strain that is. It is exactly due to diversity that this can happen.

Neither is this illiberal opinion is a fringe one within feminism. Current development suggests that it is well-subscribed. Not standard — I do not claim so; I merely asked — maybe but popular nonetheless. Unless this illiberal opinion is somehow being overly represented in the media, its popularity is a proof enough that it is a major opinion within feminism. The fact that the debate is being played out in the open is another proof. Such debate suggests that this illiberal fraction within feminism exists. If it did not exist, there would not have been a debate.

I certainly did not base my thoughts on only two articles. You appear to be well aware of the burqa debates within feminism, and perhaps, the larger debate surrounding the burqa. I believe you yourselves are well aware of how popular the call to ban the burqa is among feminists. It is easy to find feminists who disagree and agree with the ban.

I am picking on illiberal feminism and feminists who are supporting the ban. It is this illiberal strain of feminism as advocated by Farrelly that I call authoritarian. If you do not belong to this authoritarian feminism, then good for you.

As a side point, just because one does not have the power to coerce others does not mean authoritarian thoughts do not exist. Authoritarian thoughts and actions can exist independently of each other. Being a fringe also does not mean one does not have the ability to wield the “weapon of authoritarianism.” It is a fallacy to think otherwise. History has shown how minority groups can be authoritarian. But I am digressing. Before there is any misunderstanding, I definitely am not pointing out feminism in this specific case within the confined of this specific paragraph. I am merely proving a point, and a secondary point at that for the purpose of this reply.

So, what if Farrelly exhibits authoritarian tendency? Farrelly is not a spokesperson for feminism, as you have argued.

True. But this argument is quite irrelevant. If it were relevant, it would raise a question: are you a spokesperson for feminism? What right do you have to speak on behalf of any kind of feminism then? The use of ”˜we’ by you would be certainly questionable, if we apply the logic of she-is-not-a-spokesperson without being unfairly selective about it.

My point is that this illiberal tendency within feminism exists and Farrelly is only an agent of it. Perhaps you are a liberal manifestation of feminism. It is unproductive to dismiss Farrelly so easily, given the popularity of the illiberal view. On top of that, Farrelly, after all, writes for an influential mainstream newspaper in Australia. Whatever right you claim, it is claimable by Farrelly as well. It is both a strength and a weakness of diversity within feminism.

After all that, I think since both of us disagree with the ban, I feel there is little to discuss. Indeed, I think there is little room for harsh words. The unkind words scented with personal attack early in your letter are quite unnecessary. Disagreement can be addressed in a civil manner.

Now that the issue of burqa is out of the way, there is one last order of business. It involves reverse discrimination — or positive discrimination or affirmative action, depending which term one prefers — for women. I have made my position clear earlier and my opposition is largely due to my concern for tokenism. For your benefit, allow me to provide a brief explanation with the hope that this disagreement will evaporate in my favor.

If any woman, and indeed, anybody, suffers from endowment effect that necessarily means that she or he does not start at the same starting line and indeed behind, they need to be empowered through skills. Train them. Educate them. A more refined approach is required to address historical accident.

Merely putting them in a position because of affirmative action is counterproductive. Such tokenism will adversely affect society through incompetence, disfranchise the capable and ultimately create unfair generalization of women as a whole.

Reverse discrimination in this manner is what referred to when I wrote beyond tokenism. I despise sentences that go “[a]nd what is this fear of the demands that women may make beyond tokenism that you speak of? A dystopian future of emasculated men?” It is clearly out of context. But I guess, effective rhetoric demands so. It is the cherry on top I suppose.

Let merit be the major determination of who holds what. If women everywhere are more capable than any man anywhere is, then let all positions be dominated by women. I have no problem with that. What I have problem is tokenism brought upon by reverse discrimination.

If a capable woman is prevented from rightly reaching the top due to male chauvinists, then by all mean prosecute the chauvinists under some anti-discrimination laws. If a man is prevented from rightly reaching the top because of some tokenistic system, then you can see me actively dismantling that system. Equal representation is one that demands equality of outcome. As a libertarian, all I want is equality of negative individual rights. I want equality of opportunity as radiated from equal rights.

Oh, just because I do not believe in affirmative action for women does not mean that I have underdeveloped thoughts about gender discrimination. If you supposedly have developed advanced thoughts on the matter, then do share. I would very much like to find out how your argument will be different to those I have listened in the past, either in terms of gender, ethnicity or even business.

Until then, if you demand equality of outcome, then I am proud not to sit on the same side as you. I have raised my voice against demands for equality of outcome in terms of race and ethnicity. I will be a hypocrite if I do not raise my voice against equality of outcome in terms of gender. Merit is the only fair result to an outcome in most, if not all, situations.

With that, I believe I have my say for now.

Thank you for your letter. It gives me an opportunity to clarify my earlier thoughts with measured fashion.

Kind regards.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — Show me authoritarian feminism, and I’ll show you some poorly researched tosh: A letter to Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Alicia Izharuddin. Cycads. May 17 2010


[2206] Of it is not hard to choose between liberalism and authoritarian feminism

Elizabeth Farrelly at the Sydney Morning Herald writes that the burqa is an affront to feminism.[1] She makes feminism sounds authoritarian. Quoting a friend of mine, “all this really is another case of someone trying to shove the politics of one kind of identity ahead of another.”

I am unsure how widely this view is shared among feminists out there. BBC seems to believe that it is a standard position.[2] If it is a standard position, then I think the gulf between me and them has just grown wider.

My greatest issue with feminism up until recently is affirmative action. I cannot bring myself to support affirmative action for women and ending up living in a tokenistic system. Worse, some want more than tokenism. Through experience, radical feminists want inequality of rights in their favor rather than simple equality between genders.

The issue with burqa opens up a second front. If feminists seek to ban burqa, then it necessarily goes against the principle of liberty. If a person freely chooses to wear burqa, then to prevent her from wearing it is a violation of her individual liberty. It is a violation of liberalism. Therefore, if the burqa is an affront to feminism, then feminism has to be an affront to liberalism.

We all have our bias and some of these biases may be perverted and deserve criticism. Whatever it is, a person is free to hold whatever bias there is. But to act on the bias and impose others of one’s bias is unambiguously authoritarian. Clearly from her article, Farrelly is choosing the illiberal path.

If feminism indeed tries to push this agenda through, this is a sad development for all. Feminism can be a great ally in promoting liberty, especially in societies where women suffer from real discrimination. Liberals are fiercely in favor of equality of rights and that make liberals and feminists friends.

Sometimes however, I feel feminism simply goes to places when no liberal will follow and in fact, will oppose. This case of burqa is one of those impossible paths for liberal to tread on.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — Democracy pivots on the universal franchise; the presumption for each individual of a public identity, as well as a private one. To cover someone’s face in public, to reduce them to a walking tent, is to declare them lacking such identity, destroying any possibility of their meaningful public existence. It is, literally, to efface them.

To hide the face is to hide the person. As Shada Islam, Europe correspondent for the Pakistan paper Dawn, wrote last week, most European Muslim women have little patience with the burqa or its wearers, seeing it as ”a sad process of self-isolation and self-imposed exile”.

And while you could see even exile as a personal right, it does directly contradict a public duty, the duty of public presence. The morality of identity-erasure may be (barely) acceptable, but the ethics are not. Brave little Belgium. [Let’s face facts, the burqa is an affront to feminism . Elizabeth Farrelly. Sydney Morning Herald. May 13 2010]

[2] — But the arguments against the niqab are not just based on feminism and the status of women. [Behind France’s Islamic veil. BBC News. April 8 2010]


[2030] Of Gender-based quota is counter-productive

We live in a world full of inequality in terms of rights and opportunities. For those who care, it is only natural for them to address it and one of the tools available to correct the inequality is affirmative action. While the tool can be useful at creating an egalitarian society, it is imperative for us to note that certain injustices do arise as a response to previous inequality or injustice. This needs to be avoided.

Two wrongs make a right: this is one of the dangers of race-based affirmative action in Malaysia. It is also one of the dangers of setting aside a 30 per cent quota for women participation at all levels of decision-making in the government. An attempt to introduce such quotas as part of gender-based affirmative action is a policy of reverse discrimination, and hence an unjust policy.

The biggest issue about setting aside quotas for any particular group is about meritocracy. Specifically, it revolves around the availability of qualified talent within that group. The question is all the more relevant in critical areas like decision-making where competency in a particular subject is a requirement in designing good public policy. For us to move forward, we need the best individuals to articulate our public policy. Any intention to take into account factors that may deprive the government from the best talent should only be considered after thorough thinking.

If the quota is set in place, and if there are not enough qualified women to fill the quota, then those who are responsible for achieving the quota will fill the designated space with token candidates. This will be a recipe for disastrous decision-making and public policy. Or at the very least, these token candidate will not be able contribute to the kind of discussions required to form good public policy and decisions.
The quota also prevents the best, regardless of gender, from taking their rightful place. This is an act of injustice to those who are more than qualified to occupy a decision-making position but are denied that position because they belong to the wrong gender.

The formulation of good policies is in the interest of all residents of Malaysia, especially citizens. It is for this reason that the 30 per cent participation quota in decision-making for women is not exclusively a women matter. We live in an interdependent world. Decision-making in the government can affect each and every one of us. This is especially so if blunt policies are preferred to precise ones since precise policies and decision-making require highly knowledgeable policymakers.

This is not to say that women are not capable. Far from it, enough women have proven their credentials to make the reverse true. Rather, these competencies are likely gender neutral. It is this neutrality that allows capable women — or simply, capable persons — to prove themselves in the free market without prejudice. Any capable person can compete fairly in a merit-based system and need not rely on special provisions, as usually provided by affirmative action, to rise through the ranks.

Institution of an affirmative action that is based on a kind of equality of outcome may open capable women to unfair generalisation. Just as successful Malays are susceptible to the accusation that they are successful mostly due to affirmative action instead of effort, the introduction of a 30 per cent quota for women participation at all levels of decision-making will do the same thing to capable women.

There are better ways to address inequality and downright discrimination that exists across gender. It involves a shift of focus from equality of outcome to equality of opportunities. By equality of opportunities, in this context, it means no discrimination based on gender. In fact, a society that embraces the concept of equality of rights that is a mere extension to the idea of individual liberty must eliminate such discrimination.

Along with equality of opportunities, what is more useful in addressing low representation of women in decision-making levels is the empowerment of women. This calls for awareness of opportunities that exist as well as, perhaps more importantly, access to education. Building capability or any other effort at organic improvement is more meaningful and more sustainable than achieving some sort of equality dictated from the top.

Once equality of opportunities and empowerment of women are truly done, then there is no reason why women participation in decision-making should be at only 30 per cent, given that women make up roughly half of the Malaysian population. The organic solutions will improve the participation rate without resorting to unjust reverse discrimination. It will also ensure those participating in various decision-making levels truly belong there, regardless of gender.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

First published in The Malaysian Insider on July 9 2009.