[Blog] Self-Autonomy: The Question of Beauty, Discretion and Self-Independence by Jose Mario De Vega

Self-Autonomy: The Question of Beauty, Discretion and Self-Independence

Mario De Vega

I know that the topic that I am going to write today will not be greeted by approval and mass agreement. I am also fully aware that perhaps a couple of my friends and colleagues will condemn me and my thoughts.

I also expect that some will try to mock my thoughts and paint my words as offensive and demeaning, yet nonetheless, as a philosopher and a social critic, I am not writing to please people or to make the whole public agrees with my principles and views.

The duty of the social critic and revolutionary intellectual is to tell/speak the truth, no matter how inconvenient it is and expose the perversion of the social milieu, no matter how uncomfortable it is; regardless of whether this abnormal world will agree or not and irrespective of the preposterous opinions and utterly stupid viewpoints of the undeniably idiotic, herd crowd and the powers that be!

Today, with the indulgence of the readers, I would like to talk about Ms. Sara Amelia Bernard’s “My thoughts on being disqualified from Miss Malaysia World because I am Muslim”, MSN, July 22nd in relation to the decision of the Jawi Director Datuk Che Mat Che Ali that informed Miss Malaysia World organiser Datuk Anna Lim that Muslim girls will not be allowed to take part in beauty pageants following a review of the fatwa ruling. (See, “Non-participation of Muslims in Miss Malaysia World confirmed”, The Star, July 29, 2013)

As Ms. Bernard’s herself had stated:

“I’ve always wanted to join Miss Malaysia, and was so excited to receive news that Muslim girls would be able to participate in Miss Malaysia World this year. It was finally an opportunity to show the world what true Malaysian beauty is. A beauty queen is not merely a pretty face but is intelligent, cultured, well-spoken, kind hearted, warm and friendly. She uses her title to help others and participates in various charities worldwide. The idea of working with underprivileged children and the less fortunate motivated me deeply.

“I went for the auditions where I first met the pageant organiser, Miss Malaysia Universe 1990, Datin Anna Lim. She’s the type of lady who has a smile that can light up an entire room, a real beauty queen who radiates happiness and warmth wherever she goes. I was told that as a Muslim participant, I would not wear a bikini in the swimsuit round and instead be required to wear something more modest- either a swimsuit with pants or sports attire. I was also informed there that the international grand finals would be held in our Muslim neighbouring country, Indonesia.”


I join her in her excitement and happiness to receive the prospective good news that Muslim girls may be allow to participate (though she and all of us knows that this may be improbable or worst, impossible) in Miss Malaysia World this year.

I applaud her noble intention in grabbing finally the elusive opportunity to show to the whole world what true beauty is (Malaysian beauty that is)!

I overwhelmingly concur with her view that: A beauty queen is not merely a pretty face but is intelligent, cultured, well-spoken, kind hearted, warm and friendly. She uses her title to help others and participates in various charities worldwide. The idea of working with underprivileged children and the less fortunate motivated me deeply.

I cannot see why anyone would contest such a noble goal, which in my view is so humanitarian and indeed a work of universal philanthrophy.

But enough of this talk; let’s go direct to the point which is the bone of contention. That is the issue of so-called inappropriate dress code and showing one’s curves to the public.

I cannot see any problem what so ever and what the hell is all the brouhaha with regard to this whole fiasco. What are all the fuzz and the buzz and all the nonsense!

As Ms. Bernard clearly stated:

I was told that as a Muslim participant, I would not wear a bikini in the swimsuit round and instead be required to wear something more modest- either a swimsuit with pants or sports attire.


There you have it! So now, what the hell is all the fuzz with regard to this issue?


1. Are the Muslim participants forced not to participant to the said event because of the “dress code”, the nudity”, showing of their bodies and curves”?

2. Are the Muslim participants were forced not to participate to the said event because of they are Muslims?

3. Are the Muslim participants forced not to participate to the said event because of the fatwa?

Question one is already answered squarely by Ms. Bernard and so as the organizers of the said event: they will not be wearing bikini, but a modest dress. Is that not enough? Is wearing a modest dress still tantamount to being nude?

I am having a problem of how I will construe the ruling laid down by the powers that be.

Assuming for the sake of the ‘argument’ that nudity is forbidden; then is the act of wearing a decent and modest dress not enough in order not to violate the “law”?

On question two, are Muslim women absolutely forbidden to participate to events like these? Then, how about Indonesia? Last time I check, they still have the largest Muslim population in the entire world. Why is it that Indonesia allowed the said event and even agreed to hold the same at their country?

Are they being less Muslim, in doing so?

I do not think so!

What is wrong for a Muslim woman to participate to an event such as this?

That is the central point! I heavily doubt the persuasiveness and propriety of the answer given by the powers that be to convince a reasonable mind to agree with regard to their decision. Said decision in my view is not only unjust, but indisputably oppressive and discriminatory!

It is on this reason that I condemned their unwise and utterly preposterous decision!

On question three, what are the power of those people who ordered this so-called fatwa over the freedom and the autonomy of the individuals concerned?

I agree with a certain Ms. Celine (check her commentaries on the said MSN article) in defending Ms. Bernard’s courage to write her side of the story and her fortitude in speaking her mind with regard to the whole matter.

“To those ripping Sara apart by calling her names, I don’t think it is fair and I don’t think anyone should be able to judge her and point a finger without the other fingers pointing back at themselves as judging without knowledge. I am sure there is something in the Quran regarding unknowingly judging others without a clear understanding of your own ‘clean soul’.

“Aurat. As far as I know, the aurat is all intimate parts of a man and woman. Scientifically speaking, it is not every single part of your body except the slits of your eyes. To a comment below that mentioned Sara will be in outfits that will show her aurat, that isn’t really true, because beauty pageants are not a live porn show. She won’t be nude. She will be showing off her curves, her WOMANLY BEAUTY, but also her MIND and her intelligence.

“For the men who will perve at beauty pageants, is that the fault of the participants? And I am pretty sure that these men will be a mixture of many different men, from Muslims to atheists to Catholics, etc. What does it matter? No matter what religion, every teenage boy has watched porn, or fantasised, or woken up from a wet dream. What can you say about that? Castrate them? Imprison them? You can bind someone physically but you can never bind someone’s mind and soul that will always wander. And who are you to so boldly judge Sara and say ‘You are causing men to be perverts’? This sounds strongly like that insane lady who created the wives’ club and saying ‘If your husband cheats, it is your fault.’

“Maybe Sara wants to join a beauty pageant to prove all this wrong. To show that a woman can do what she wants to do without giving a flying fart what men or society thinks of her. She states that as a beauty queen, she can be given a role to help the community and give light to those in need. This, to me, does not sound like a disrespectful, dumb, idiotic woman.

“It is up to individuals what they deem as right and wrong, and their relationship with the supernatural forces, or God, or whatever the people believe in, is personal to them and them alone. No one else has the right to tell them they are wrong because they are not on the same path as the ‘do-gooders’. And there are so much BIGGER problems out there that everyone should be working to fix, not a girl trying to get into a beauty pageant.”


I totally concur that “it is up to individuals what they deem as right and wrong”.

No one has the right to act as if they are the “chosen one” or they are the “paragon of morality”.

In school, I was taught that no person or institution has the monopoly of knowledge; the same is true in the same vein that there is no such thing as moral cartel.

The unpardonable and disgusting act of those so-called “moral police” and “moral idiots” commanding and telling the rest of the world that a Muslim girl cannot participate to the said beauty contest because it is against religion and that a lot of men will commit sins by staring at them — should consider going to the nearest psychiatrist or better yet consult a nearby psychologist.

The preposterous act of the powers that be to forbid Muslim women to participate to the said beauty contest is a form of moral discrimination and a grave violation of those women’s constitutional rights to decide how will they going to live their lives.

It is a form of moral discrimination by virtue of the fact that it implies that those who will abide by this imposition are the only morally pure people in this society and the other individuals who will defy or not believe or conform or subscribe to their views are immoral and impure. This is logically untenable and morally impertinent.

Though, they did not categorically say so, only a moron by nature or worst, an idiot of the highest order will fail to observe the underlying implication of the said order.

Go and check all of the negative accusations, slanderous remarks and utterly below the belt comments received by Ms. Bernard on her Face book account and various social networking sites!

Due to all of these bad words, she decided to deactivate her FB account! Yet in my view, the damage has been done! This is a shame!

What is the authority of these creatures to tell the people how are they going to conduct themselves and how would they going to live their lives?

I also concur with the views stated by a certain person by the name of Kenneth in his commentaries at the said MSN article concerning this issue:

“I must admit that I have not been keeping up with Malaysian headlines as I found myself reading a lot of statements made incoherently and without forethought by a lot of the speakers. When I came across this article on the banning of Muslim women from participating, I wondered:

1. Are the men of Malaysia, myself included, so uncultured, uneducated and so without morals, that the mere sight of a woman on stage, and at one point in the competition, in a swimsuit, would send us into a tizzy? And the four ladies have already agreed to dress modestly (although, honestly, in today’s Malaysia, a Muslim woman would probably have to be dressed in a full-on Hijab to be considered modest) …so really? What’s the deal?

2. Is this just another misguided attempt at controlling everything that happens by using the religion card and branding these women as infidels if they don’t comply? What’s next? Stoning? Honour killing?

“What has Malaysia come to?

“I’m terribly disappointed that instead of looking at the many plus points, these gentlemen in suits and ties and skull caps sit down in some office or mosque and single-handedly bring us back to the Stone Ages. There’s so much good that can come from this and yet, all they focus on is ‘their’ version of their religion.”

“Disappointed, but not surprised.”


I have not written this article to disparage or discredit my Muslim friends, brothers and sisters but to condemn the decision of the powers that be which in my view is anti-Islam, intolerant and discriminative in its core.

I have written this article not simply to defend Ms. Bernard and other Muslim girls like her, but also to highlight the undeniable arbitrary powers of the powers that be in deciding cases and issues that infringed, obstruct and violate the rights of the people.

As I’ve stated then in an article, “Its about cherishing love”, The New Straits Times, February 16, 2011 and “A reminder to value and cherish all those who love us”, The Star, February 18, 2011:

“Human beings will do good and evil acts not because of the month or the time of year, but rather based on their moral code and ethical standards.

“Sex and morality can never be validly imposed or forcefully legislated.

“To do so would amount to oppression and that would pave the way to a return to the Dark Ages, which is antithetical to modern civilisation.

“Humans must do the right thing, the good thing and the ethical thing because it is the right thing to do, because of the nobility of our spirit, the genuineness of our love and the pureness of our hearts.”

Who determines society’s morals?

Is it the individuals who comprises the said society or is it the state through its government that determines what is the suitable moral social codes from its people?

My firm thesis is that it is precisely man himself that should legislate and must craft his own values, morality and virtues to the complete exclusion of the state and/or the government.

We are who we are. Ethics and morality can never ever be enacted as laws and enforced as statutes that will regulate how people and the citizens will live their lives.

If that will be the case, then it would undeniably diminished man’s humanity and autonomy. That is besides the fact that it will incontestably violates man’s right as a member of the political community.

The state has no right whatsoever to pass moral laws that impliedly telling the people how the people would live their lives.

In the lucid words of Professor Kristine Korsgaard:

“We are masters of our own self-mastery, in control of our self-control. Being human is not sapping our strength, for we still know when to fight…”

No one has the right to impose their concept of morality and sense of righteousness to another. That is a clear case of moral cartel. To each it’s own! Your morality is yours; while my ethics is mine.

It is my firm view, no matter how controversial it is to the majority that morality and ethics are beyond religion, customs and beliefs…

People who are just and fair will do acts of fairness and justice not because of their religious beliefs or theological upbringing but because it is the right thing to do!

Humans are inherently beautiful within because Mother Nature herself is beautiful, not because those individuals are Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, atheists or whatever they are!

Their beauty has nothing to do with their religious beliefs; because in the final analysis, they are truly beautiful, if indeed, they are beautiful within — their very souls!

That is the central substantive point in all these issues!

Jose Mario Dolor De Vega

Philosophy lecturer
Polytechnic University of the Philippines

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