[2889] The only person in the wrong is the fascist threat make

As a libertarian, hate speech is always a difficult subject to touch on. It is difficult to determine how far should free speech go until a line has to be drawn.

The pure libertarian position is very tolerant of all kinds of speech, and even hate speech. So tolerant that it goes so far away towards the horizon that for a peaceful society with high social capital, there exists a boundary much, much closer and well short of the libertarian realm of the unacceptable. Here, there is a conflict between inherent right and the ideal of coexistence. Without context, an answer is difficult to reach and even if it is reached, a libertarian is unlikely will be content with it. But living in a peaceful society will always call for a compromise, and that is the price we all have to pay in some way.

But when a person makes an explicit physical threat against another person or group of identifiable people, then the libertarian answer is quite easy: it is wrong and action has to be taken to make sure that such threats will not be realized. This is because of the non-aggression axiom (I know, I know. The axiom is problematic. Nevertheless…). The use or threat of force against a person is coercion and coercion is a big no-no in the libertarian understanding on how the world should work.

And so, I am not particularly impressed when what seems to be a group of fascists complained that a follower of their ideology, and the person himself, has had his right to free speech or free press robbed after a bookstore decided to stop selling his book that encourages others to murder certain people who they do not agree with.[1]

In the first place however, the store is a private entity. The bookstore owner can do as he damn well pleases.

The author later complained that the pull out proved that there were people afraid of him. Rightly, so. He is after all calling for murder. One must be so dull in the mind to think such opinion is an astounding revelation and people should not be afraid. If somebody made a credible threat against me, I would go to the police for protection and take the necessary precaution against that threat (and possibly, even preemptive measures). One does not need to be libertarian to act such a way. It is human nature.

In the end, there is only one violation of right in this episode and it is the physical threat made by the fascist. That alone from libertarian perspective makes it sufficient for police action to be taken against him.

In any case, a fascist’s world is one where a libertarian cannot live free. When a fascist cries for freedom, such a claim should always be viewed with supreme skepticism.

Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reservedHafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reservedHafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — A bookstore has dropped two books by author Helmi Effendy over his social media comments on killing Malay “traitors.”

“Effective immediately, we will not be selling any books by Helmi Effendy at Kedai Fixi or on We support freedom of speech, but not threats or ‘prayers’ for people to be killed,” Buku Fixi said in a statement today.

Helmi is the founder of right-wing publication The Patriots.


“May the Night of Broken Glass become a reality in Malaysia. The Night of the Long Knives will kill Malay leaders and voters who have betrayed their religion and race,” he said in his post.


In a Facebook post today, the author lashed out at the move, claiming that his books have been “banned.” There is no government ban on the books, however.

“I don’t care. I don’t give a f***. I take it that when Buku Fixi takes my books off their shelves, it means someone out there is very very afraid of me,” he said. [Store drops books over author’s call to kill ‘Malay traitors’. Malaysiakini. May 29 2019]

Liberty Politics & government

[2878] The anti-ICERD protest is a chance to show this government is different from the past administration

This is the first significant protest the current government faces. And this is yet another opportunity for this government to demonstrate that it is different from the previous corrupt racist, fascist regime.

That can be shown by accommodating the protest as much as possible with a view of not being explicitly hostile to it either through speech or action, but by guaranteeing the safety of the protest participants and others while they exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and speech.

I participated in all of the Bersih protests and each time, there was always a dread feeling inside of me expecting the worst to happen. Such feeling was warranted.

Previously, government-controlled media always delivered threatening messages to the masses ahead of any large protest. May 13 without fail was the boogeyman.

My first taste of tear gas happened while I was standing amid a large crowd near the Maybank tower.

I have been chased by the police before. At one time, an officer pulled a gun near Jalan Raja Laut after chaos erupted. There was a time when I walked by a security personnel during a protest, and he verbally abused me.

And the laying out of barbwire and other actions like the conspicuous rolling out of anti-riot assets with security personnel all equipped with armor always threatened the atmosphere of the protest.

Furthermore, it was common knowledge that the party in power then sent provocateurs to create chaos, and create a reason for the security personnel to come in and break the protest.

All this should be avoided by this government. The police should hold back and not purposefully threaten the crowd. No provocateur should be sent by anybody associated with the ruling parties and the government.

It is by backing off from these provocative tactics that we can show to the world that the government is self-assured and strong.

The function of a government within the context of its citizens exercising their rights is to protect those rights and the people who are practicing it peacefully.

We can disagree with the agenda of the protest participants, however racists they are, but we should also respect their right to assemble peacefully.

We can be different and we must be different. We can show to them that there is another way. We do not need to beat our chest to show our confidence and strength.

That is the best way to blunt their message: that we are different and better.

Economics Politics & government

[2653] Politics should not be a taboo in the financial world

Malaysian private economists mostly find themselves in domestic banks. They typically provide macroeconomic outlook and commentaries on the Malaysian economy for the banks and its clients.

These economists are mostly interested in business cycles, which is a code word for short term economic fluctuation. After all, most professionals in the finance industry and especially the fund managers are mostly interested in making money. Money is made during a business cycle. Beyond the cycle, it is academic.

Academic matters are good to know but one cannot use it to make a killing in the market. Five years down the road? Structural issues? ”Cool story, bro.”

So, these private economists focus on projecting Malaysia’s economic growth, inflation, foreign exchange and interest rates as well as trade figures for the year and the next. These short-run forecast are the big five traditional things that private economists have their eyes on.

Those are not the only things on which economists maintain a close watch. They do monitor and comment other economic indicators and irregular issues, which include developments in other countries that may affect the Malaysian economy.

What is happening in the euro zone? Will the Greek government get the bailout money? Will the US Congress increase the debt limit? What is happening in China? Will the new Abe administration really interfere in the operations of the Bank of Japan?

In many cases, things that are being asked are not strictly economics. They can be political in nature. Do you think Obama will win in the US presidential election? What will happen to Monti? Will Merkel continue to lead Germany? What is Hollande doing? Will Japan and China go to war over those islands? All these questions and more affect the global economy even if they are firmly set in the realm of politics.

Sometimes, some people ask economists about the weather. How bad will Hurricane Sandy be? Regretfully, it seems that economists are the in-house political experts, gypsies with a crystal ball and meteorologists all at the same time. It is outrageous but it just comes with the job. It is demanded of them.

These questions on foreign politics can be answered by these private economists frankly. Not too many will be offended by the answers. The reason is that many in Malaysia do not invest their livelihood in the politics of other countries. They just need to know what is happening abroad so that, for instance, they can anticipate the exchange rate movement. So, foreign politics is not ”• in Malaysia-speak ”• sensitive to the Malaysian financial industry.

But Malaysian politics is.

Despite the fact that politics clearly affects the economy and, specifically, the financial market, frank political discussions are a bit of a taboo in the industry here in Malaysia.

When the conclusions do not place the government of the day in a good light, there is at least a need to rethink how to deliver the message, if there is a need to deliver that message at all.

While the research arm of a bank is theoretically independent, they are under some pressure to avoid direct political reference altogether, however potentially relevant it is to the economy and the performance of the financial market. The conventional wisdom is, do not offend anybody in politics, especially not the government of the day. Conservatism rules the day.

It does take a lot of tact to write something political. Not in the rhetorical or polemical way mind you but as in critical analysis and how it may affect policy, hence investment. To circumvent the problem, analysts and economists express political-related opinions behind closed doors. It either remains unwritten or coded in confusing sentences if it is written at all.

After all, the typical large clients of the banks are large, rich statutory bodies. One does not want to commit a faux pas and lose out on millions of ringgit worth of transactions and deals.

This is not to say that employees in these institutions are political hacks. No. Like the most economists in these private banks, they are professionals and most of them are completely reasonable. The issue is really the line of command; there are government appointees somewhere up there with a big stick who cannot take political analyses that do not favor their side.

And, yes, research publications by these banks are licensed and monitored by Ministry of Home Affairs. So, the issue of press freedom also affects these banks although to a much lesser extent compared to the media. After all, analysts and economists at these banks have very little reason to write something about race and religion, the powder keg of Malaysian society.

One example of how politics can be a taboo involves one of the biggest domestic investment banks in Malaysia and a prominent federal opposition member of parliament.

The research arm of the investment bank invited the MP to join them on a roadshow to talk to its clients in Singapore about the latest political development in Malaysia. The bank’s clients were interested to know because politics affects their returns on investment. They needed to decide and they needed information. This was a chance to get the information straight from the horse’s mouth.

The bank was later criticized for inviting the opposition MP to its program, by a major pro-Barisan Nasional newspaper. That was the end of it.

As an economist, I also had a report that was mildly political in nature for circulation. The management did not give the publication their green light, however, because they deemed it as too politically sensitive.

The publication was not political rhetoric, which is inappropriate for an investment bank. It was a summary of the finding of a closed door discussion held at the bank earlier, which was about the potential outcome of the next general election. Yes, many banks are concerned about uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the next election.

The management was skittish about organizing it because of the profile of the speaker. Still, the forum was held anyway because the bank thought the clients would appreciate it. They clients did appreciate it.

The worst case proving the existence of the taboo so far involves an economist at Bank Islam. He has been suspended by the management of the bank for predicting that Pakatan Rakyat will likely win the next general election and describing such scenario.

His presentation that landed him in hot water does not appear like campaign material. It was more of a mild, measured opinion of an economist instead of a raging, campaigning politician.

As has been reported in the news, the bank has distanced itself from the opinion of its chief economist. That only highlights how averse the bank is to politics.

To be fair, however, the chief economist at Bank Islam, Azrul Azwar Ahmad Tajudin, is not exactly a politically neutral person. He is associated with Parti Keadilan Rakyat and he does advise the party on economic matters. His active participation in politics may have worked against him.

While the fear of losing millions of ringgit and the publication permit is real (perhaps overstated maybe but one can never know), the sensitivity is counterproductive to the industry and those whom it serves. Owners of funds ultimately demand returns to their savings and investment. Having critical and frank analyses on business, the economy and politics are crucial to making the right financial decisions.

Since politics does affect policies and these policies do affect the economy and the financial market, having political discussion as taboo in the financial markets makes making the right decisions harder than it should be.

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 January 24 2013.

Liberty Society

[2410] Rights, loudspeakers and call to prayer in Malaysia

Though a libertarian and in many ways individualistic in the sense that I am protective of my individual negative rights, I am highly conscious of the fact I live in a society. Even with these rights intact, there has to be a give and take, some kind of mutual and voluntary compromises.

The realization that we do not live as an island is doubly important in times when rights are unclear. The exercise of these unclear rights does create tension and ultimately bad blood in society. That is not a way to live by. This is especially so in a multicultural society where no certain way of life is necessarily taken for granted.

Yes, this about the call to prayer controversy in Penang. Although it happened it Penang, it has happened elsewhere in the past and it is really a case applicable nationwide, even elsewhere.

In Malaysia where everything done in the name of Islam is accepted by the conservatives as sacrosanct, criticism against the use of loudspeaker by mosques has been considered as an attack by Islam, at least by them. I do not think this can be seen separately from the Malay right narrative, where rightly or wrongly within local context, the idea of Malayness is seen as Islamic.

Noise (I use noise here without prejudice and only in a very general sense that it is a series of loud sound regardless of its human origin) is a complex issue as far as rights are concerned. On the default, I think I am happy to have the right of making noise stands as it own. It does seem to me like a negative liberty.

It is not a primary right I suppose but only a derived right, derived from freedom of expression. One perhaps could derive it from religious freedom but I tend to believe religious freedom itself is a derived right, and as far as the Islamic call to prayer in Malaysia is concerned, I think freedom of expression is more relevant than religious freedom. That does not mean religious freedom is being negated. I am simply stating that freedom of expression is more relevant. Sometimes, reiterating that in useful as an emphasis. I have found that typical readers read only to forget what they read in the previous sentence.

In any case, given the default position, there clearly is a problem with individual or organization like mosques using its right in early morning in a residential area, causing discomfort to others, especially for those who do not appreciate being effectively shouted at with a loudspeaker.

I personally have bad experience with mosques and call to prayer. My childhood home in Malaysia is surrounded by at least three large mosques, never mind the smaller ones dotting the neighborhood. During call to prayer, the three will seemingly engage in a competition with the loudest call will win the day.

This is very, highly annoying. Things are made worse when these mosques use loudspeakers and project their reading of the Koran or the actual prayer outward.

While the default position belongs to the mosques, it is much better for the general harmony of the neighborhood to not, at least, use the loudspeakers at every single chance these mosques have. Even with the right, voluntary compromise goes a long way in creating tolerating neighborhood. One does not what to live a neighborhood which bad blood prevails.

Respect, compromise and harmony may be a something-in-the-cloud or everything-and-nothing kind of approach. It sounds nice, but what exactly does it entail?

Well, I think it means mosques need to use their loudspeakers discriminately. Personally, I think the best is by turning the loudspeaker inward rather than outward. Realistically, use it only for actual call to prayer, and be extra mindful about its morning usage. Lower the volume by some notch, especially when there are oppositions. If there were none, the problem would not have existed in the first place.

Be as that may be, with the default case of right belonging to the mosque, freedom of expression and free speech is a two-way street. If the mosques insist in using its right, then criticism will be mounted. The mount of such criticism is also part of negative individual right. It is part of free speech.

So, if negative rights and liberties are adopted as the way forward by the mosques to justify their use of loudspeaker and projecting it outward to show its Islamic credential, they must face the criticism in the spirit of free society. Do not issue threat. Do not think that that criticism is some kind of unfair demand.

This goes with churches and temples as well.

In fact, I think it goes for all of us. Loud radio, loud TV, loud party, firecrackers, speaking into the phone loudly in the train, etc.

Just be mindful of your neighbors. Do not be obnoxious.

And I think that is reasonable.

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

p/s — while I am supportive of any move of reducing the use of loudspeakers by mosque, I do not support having a central authority telling local mosques what to do. That however is another issue that I will give it a pass right now.

Liberty Politics & government Society

[2243] Of discuss, debate but do not threaten

Opinions abound and they are bound to hit some sensitive nerve. When it hits, there goes another police report. There goes another demand for an ISA arrest.

The right-wing group Perkasa has been at it for some time now, calling for the arrest of various individuals for challenging what the group considers as Malay rights. Leaders of MCA and MIC meanwhile have lodged police reports against Perkasa for calling for the abolition of vernacular schools. An Umno politician recently said that nobody should question the existence of these schools because the founding fathers had agreed to it — nobody should question it; neither such an ultimatum nor threat has any place in a democratic system that cherishes freedom.

Some debates are engaging in that there are outstanding ripostes to brilliant arguments as opposing sides try to outwit each other. An exploration of ideas happens along the way to awe both participants and spectators. They are well-researched and well-argued. Malaysia requires this kind of debate for it to take the next step into the future confidently. We have the infrastructure and the institutions to take that step. What we lack is the culture. The exchange of threats reflects that.

The ones taking place in Malaysia are unimpressive by any measure. There is no witty riposte. There is no brilliant argument. There are just people who disagree with each other so badly that they want to silence the other. They are unable to conjure attractive thoughts to undermine the others’ arguments. They are not creative enough to convince the others and the spectators why they are right and the others are wrong. All they can muster is ”shut up or else.”

Worse, some of these arguments are made by members of the ruling coalition. One would expect more from them, given that they are driving the car.

When an argument is really a thinly veiled threat, it betrays something about it or those who make it. It is a weakness of intellect or laziness in thoughts. The gears in their heads stop running and their muscles begin to flex.

If this was the dominating atmosphere on the fringes, it could all be ignored safely. They can flex their muscle all they want in dark corners populated by cuckoos. But all this is happening in the center of the public arena.

It is because it is taking place in the centre that this lamented trend cannot be tolerated. It creates a climate of fear that crowd freedom out from the center.

No one in Malaysia needs any reminders that multiple issues need resolutions. These are old legacy issues and problems we inherited from our founding fathers.

None can claim to know what the eventual sustainable solutions are. What is true is that the way for us to begin to imagine those solutions is by being free to debate all issues with reason, not by resorting to threats.

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 August 27 2010.