[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]

Politics & government

[2783] Public officials do not deserve privacy

Privacy very is important to me. It is important not just in the practical sense but also as a matter of principle with the context that I am a libertarian. Even in the internet age when doxing and hacking are almost normal and easily done, surveillance and privacy breaches are still a concern.

Now, the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal involves a lot of violations of individual privacy. Details of individuals’ bank accounts have been leaked out. Yet, I do not take it as violation in the libertarian sense.

Does this mean I am applying double standard in this case?


So, why does the privacy for these individuals weigh less than that of others’?

These individuals — public official and their close relatives — do not deserve the typical privacy protection granted to the common men and women because they are in power. They are public officials. The higher up they are on the echelon of power, the less protection they deserve and the greater scrutiny the they should come under.

If they were accorded the same protection, it would create great opportunity for corruption and makes it harder to detect actual cases of corruption. For a clean government to exist, power must always survive skepticism. And so too for men and women holding public offices.

In fact, it should be the practice for public officials to declare their income and wealth to the public in the first place to reduce the opportunity for corruption. That very practice refuses them the right to privacy as far as income and wealth are concerned.

But in Malaysia, we do not have that declaration system and the public cannot access existing incomplete, inadequate asset declaration records. And this doubly means that these individuals of power do not deserve privacy that they are demanding.

Truly, leaks targeting 1MDB and others in power are now the only means for the public to ascertain the various allegations of corruption. These allegations are no more about sensationalist tabloid gossips. They are a matter of state administration and corruption.

Worse, sadly, the leaks have more credibility than most Malaysian institutions. I hold that it is these leaks that are forcing our institutions to investigate 1MDB finally. Without the leaks, these institutions compromised as they are, would have done nothing. The leakers, whoever they are, are providing public service.

This leads to another point. Our institutions suffer from trust deficit. Years of abuse by the government have robbed our institutions from the neutrality and the credibility they need to do their job.

And on top that, there is also conflict of interest just by the way our institutions are designed. In the case of 1MDB specifically, the attorney general who is leading the investigation suffers from conflict of interest. The AG office is both the public prosecutor and the legal counsel for the government. Since the AG office itself is under the Prime Minister’s Department, I fear the political reality means the AG will act more of a legal counsel to the government than as a reliable public prosecutor.

If the lack of very public asset declaration practice, trust deficit and conflict of interest has yet to convince you why individuals of power (public officials and their close relatives) do not deserve the typical privacy protection, then perhaps the awkwardness of them using the privacy laws to prosecute the leakers and prevent the public from finding out if there is indeed has been any wrongdoing.

At the very least, there is a very strong suspicion of abuse in 1MDB, a government-linked company. Any individual benefiting from the abuse deserves no privacy protection. They, instead of the leakers, should face the full force of the law instead.

Liberty Personal Society

[2762] Of paternalistic announcement that comes with an echo

Hearing voices announcing something over the loudspeakers in public spaces makes me uncomfortable. It gives me the feeling that somebody is watching me and worse, the unknown person is giving me an order. The automatic reaction by the libertarian in me is to question and resist, even if the announcement makes sense.

Most announcements in KL Sentral, Kuala Lumpur’s Grand Union Station with its wide atrium, are harmless. Please let the passengers on-board get off the train first. Please watch your belongings. Please watch your step.

Judging by how some people refuse to wait for others to get out of the train before getting in, it feels like I am not the only trying to resist the announcement…

But from time to time it gets a little suspicious. Come join us for the F1 racing this weekend in Sepang! Drink this coffee.

No, I do not want to watch the F1 under the tropical sun. No, I do not like your coffee.

Yes, they are advertorials telling you to buy something that you do not need.

One time in a train car, a “refresher” would spray a scent of a particular brand of quick canned coffee into the enclosed air. There was no way for me to run, except getting out of the train. The advertisement campaign assaulted not only my eardrums but my olfactory organ too.

I learned to identify which train cars were installed with the horrible refresher and refused to ride on it, preferring to wait for better smelling train sets. It was not hard to know which was which. Oh, that is the car with the horrible smell of coffee. Oh, that is the coffee Wonda train car! I will let the train go for a better smelling one.

The PA system does have it uses. Sometimes, when the trains break down, the announcement helps. But at other times, all the gentle reminders — in London, I think it is “Mind the gap” in New York, “Stand clear of the closing door, please” or was it in California with its BART? I do not remember. In Paris, well, the Parisian Metro is unique with its chime ”na-na-na-na” — are definitely a hint of paternalism. It is a kind of soft paternalism that almost everybody ignores but at its heart is that suffocating authoritarian worldview.

The cavernous badly lit KL Sentral exacerbates, as with any cavernous building would, the sensation with that slight echo that follows the initial sound wave.

Growing up Malaysia, I quickly associate loudspeakers and echoes with Islam. The calls to prayer, the azan, are familiar and with so many mosques around, it can be maddeningly incomprehensible and downright annoying. In this country, expressing dissatisfaction against the competition between mosques for the loudest azan prize can bring trouble as the overly sensitive conservatives ignore comprehension of the azan recital in favor of noise. The louder the azans, the sermons, speeches and readings, the louder will the echoes be.

The echoes give the idea that god the supreme being is speaking to you. This is not just me feeling it and writing crap theory. Switch on the TV or the radio when an Islamic program is up in the air and you can hear how the editors use the echo effect whenever a verse from the Koran is read. In a more adventurous unorthodox Islamic program — I think it was Imam Muda where judges look for the best “Islamic idol” (just like the American Idol!) — an echo would accompany the contestants when he or she read a Koranic verse. So, there is something holy about the echoes.

My travels across Southeast Asia have made me realized the role of echoes in depicting something as holy is not limited just to Islam. I stayed for a week in an alley in Mandalay, Myanmar. At the top of the short alley is the Ein Daw Yar Pagoda. The Buddhist chanting I heard every morning and in the evening through its PA system was, forgive me for the neologism, echorized. It sounded like a prerecorded mantra chanting. I could hear the word amitaba through the artificial echo and among the unrecognizable words. And there was also echo in traditional Christian chanting from the mediaeval times as they sang in their tall cathedrals.

Religion, either god himself (herself for the feminist?) or the institution is an authority, I suppose sociologically, rightly or wrongly. The echo is a signifier of holy authority.

Holy and authority. Those are two of my favorite things.

And so I come back to KL Sentral with its banal announcements along with its echoes.

The libertarian is clenching a fist, but with only four fingers closed.

ASEAN Liberty

[2668] The Sulu and the Philippine claims of Sabah are undemocratic and unlibertarian

I have a fundamental objection to the Sulu and the Philippine claims of Sabah. Calling it the claim of Sabah is somewhat inaccurate because if the Philippine claim is wholly based on the Sulu claim, then by right the claim only covers roughly the eastern half of Sabah. Nevertheless, the objection that I have is not based on nationalistic sentiment. It is based on democratic and libertarian values.

Know this. The claim by the two parties are undemocratic and certainly unlibertarian. It is both undemoractic and unlibertarian because it completely bypasses the will of the people in Sabah.

The Sulu claim especially is made by a pretender to the throne of the Sulu Sultanate, a monarchy which practically has been extinct for a long time now. The claim by the monarchy highlights how it is undemocratic and unlibertarian.

The term libertarian that I use here is almost democratic and almost committed to a liberal democracy.

Libertarians come from the tradition that the state derives its legitimacy from its people. After all, the most important component of any society is the individuals who form it. Libertarians seek to secure freedom of individuals and the best way to do so within the framework of the state is to make the state answerable to its citizens.

The Sulu claim certainly does not fit into the libertarian framework. If the claim is realized by the Sulu Sultanate, then it will be clear that it is the sultan who will be in power. The Sultan, after all, is running the show, ordering the doomed incursion into Sabah. Any political power will originate from him and that is unacceptable to any libertarian.

Of course, the new Sulu power in Sabah can institute democratic infrastructure to turn the direction of the origin of power more libertarian and that will solve the democratic and libertarian concern. But the fact remains the claim has its origin from a very autocratic nature.

If one compares the Sulu claim to Malaysia’s, it is clear that the Malaysian claim is more libertarian. This is not to mean that Malaysia is a libertarian utopia but relatively, Malaysia is far above the rung compared to the Sulu Sultanate.

The most libertarian argument for Malaysia is that the Malaysian claim is not really a Malaysian claim. It is a Sabahan claim. The people of Sabah decided to be part of the federation of Malaysia and as a federation, all states within Malaysia is responsible toward the security of Sabah. In the face of armed adventure embarked by the Sulu Sultanate, the self-defense action by the Malaysian security forces is legitimate from the libertarian perspective, especially from the libertarian concept of non-aggression axiom. The axiom can be problematic at times by in the case of Sabah, its application is straight forward.

And this brings us to the Philippines, which for all intents and purposes is the successor state to the extinct Sulu Sultanate. What makes the Philippine claim more legitimate from libertarian perspective when compared to the Sulu claim, is that the Philippines, like Malaysia, is a democracy. Both democracies may not be perfect and there are flaws in the system but principally, they are. There are democratic institutions and there are guarantees of individual rights although the guarantees do not go as far enough as a libertarian would like and there are deplorable violations of those rights.

Of course, comparing Malaysian and Philippine democratic institutions to Sulu’s, which do not exist, is unfair because they have not been given a chance to develop it. Nevertheless, the setup highlights the origin of power. For both states, the origin of the power comes from the people, not some autocrats like a sultan.

That however does not make the Philippine claim very much more agreeable from the Sulu claim. The Philippine claim still bypasses the people of Sabah. So, the only libertarian (and democratic) way of solving the claim is by going back to the people. Let us have three options. Malaysia, independence or the Philippines. I have a feeling that the first two options will be more popular to the last one.

And then finally, the Malaysian setup is far more likeable to libertarians than the Philippines. Malaysia is a federation and the Philippines is a unitary state. Sabah has considerable autonomy within Malaysia. Even then, there are accusations that Kuala Lumpur is meddling in the affairs of Sabah. Imagine the Philippines with its unitary state mentality. That would be ugly not just to libertarians, but more so to Sabahans and the Philippines.

Economics Politics & government Society

[2625] AES, privacy and perverse incentive

The implementation of the Automatic Enforcement System (AES) is proving to be so controversial that even federal backbenchers are joining the federal opposition in criticizing the system.

For the uninitiated, the AES is a privately-financed and operated system of speed traps under the purview of the Road Transport Department (JPJ). It has two functions: catch those who drive above the speed limit and those who beat the red light. The overarching aim is to reduce road accidents.

There are strong opinions on the matter, and at times, it appears that there is no middle ground. As for me, I am of two minds about the matter.

I can be supportive of the AES because, frankly, there are assholes on the roads. They drive as if the roads are racetracks. Many of them disrespect the traffic lights. They, as some would say in Malay, think that their fathers owned the road.

These drivers endanger others’ life and there have been times when they caused me unnecessary distress. Though it is unbecoming of me, there were times when I wished they would meet with an accident. Pain is a great disincentive and these drivers need some serious disincentive. Maybe, like losing a limb. Or two.

But such pain can be barbaric and so, the next best thing is to hit them in their pockets. For those driving Ferraris, a Hummer financed by a tycoon and the likes, the AES is unlikely to be of any deterrent. If you think a maximum of RM300 fine can deter the elites from becoming a road menace, then I do have something to sell to you.

Philosophically, the libertarian in me is always skeptical of cameras in public space, either for crime fighting or as speed traps. It is a concern for privacy and in an environment when I distrust the government with my private data, especially with an illiberal government in power, having these cameras all over the public space allows the government, or even private entities, to track me. Whatever the guarantee of privacy, words are words and it is open to abuse. How do I know, for instance, that the AES cameras will be used purely for traffic purposes?

I just do not.

There is, of course, an argument that in this age of social media, the concern about privacy with respect to cameras in public spaces is really overblown. A large chunk of our lives is already available online. Nevertheless, there are things on social media, and there are things that are not. Cameras in public space have the capability of revealing things that are not on social media, among other things. There is such a thing called privacy, especially to a libertarian like me.

The other part that raises my opposition is economics. Specifically, the incentive structure of AES is flawed. There is a clear case of perverse incentive. It creates a conflict of interest among the companies.

The private companies operate the AES and they generate revenue from paid traffic tickets. There is a clear profit motive here. The profit motive itself is not the problem.

The problem comes when one considers the fact that the process of taking the pictures is managed by the companies.

With that, the AES operators face the incentive to tweak the violation benchmarks regardless of the speed limits sanctioned by the authorities. The operators can increase their revenue by dishonestly lowering the benchmark for fines. In other words, there is an incentive for the companies to cheat commuters. There is a risk that these companies will cheat us.

This basically negates a pro-AES argument out there that sounds like this: if you do not commit an offence, the companies get no money. As I have explained, there is a risk that the companies do make money even when there is no offence committed.

This can be addressed by having an independent, incorruptible body to oversee the system. This can be the government because the government (a clean one at that) can be a counterweight to the profit-motive. The independent overseer needs to ensure there is no cheating done by the operators of the AES.

This is already in place in a way. All cameras will be calibrated every eight months by SIRIM, which one assumes to be an independent party. Still, something can happen between two calibration sessions. After all, the two private companies do operate and maintain the cameras on behalf of JPJ. They have access to the cameras all the times.

The alternative which can make the AES more palatable incentive-wise is to change the incentive structure. In my humble opinion, the companies should not be paid according to the number of fines paid. The payoff should not be pegged to the number of motorists caught. Instead, these companies should be paid a fixed regular fee from the relevant authority. This will make the incentive to cheat go away.

The problem with this is that the government may have to go back on its word and break the contracts signed. But hey, what else is new?

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 November 8 2012.