We need you to define 'Islamophobia' very clearly by 7th May @Ed_Miliband. Will such statements be criminalised? pic.twitter.com/moStkDYcD7
— Helen Pluckrose (@HPluckrose) April 25, 2015
Perfect. Couldn't be stated more clearly. https://t.co/YI2reCO7Ed
— Roy Grubb (@roygrubb) April 26, 2015
Helen says we need something. But is this really a clear statement of requirements? What exactly is she demanding here? Does she expect politicians to provide precise definitions of all the cliches and platitudes and vague promises in the manifesto or on the hustings? If benefits are going to be directed towards "hard-working families", do we need this term to be defined as well? (See Terry Eagleton's criticism of the party manifestos.)
Supposing it to be possible to legislate about "islamophobia" (or "hate crime"), the term would need to be defined properly, so that the legislation is fair and workable. My initial reading of Helen's tweet was that she believed that a meaningful definition was not possible, therefore legislation would not be possible, therefore the promise to legislate would be either foolish or in bad faith. However, instead of stating this belief directly, she expresses her challenge in the form of a case that may demonstrate the impossibility of producing a fair and workable definition.
Of course, this form of challenge is quite legitimate, but I should like to quibble with Roy's assertion that it is the clearest (most explicit) way of posing such a challenge. The fact that I initially misread Helen's tweet (as affirmed in the comment below this post) reinforces my concern about clarity. I'm not blaming Helen for this - it is rarely possible to express one's complete meaning in a 140 character tweet.
Helen wants Ed Miliband to reassure us that any legislation would be drawn narrowly, to avoid restricting legitimate intellectual debate. However, there is a precedent for ill-defined and over-generalized terms being coded into legislation, as shown in the absurd laws on "glorifying terrorism", and we may have little confidence that the legislators will apply the appropriate rigour in coming up with a proper definition of anything.
The example quoted by Helen is interesting because it could be used to generate further examples. Firstly, the word "Islam" could be replaced with the word "Christianity". Secondly, the word "Islam" could be replaced with the phrase "Islam-or-Christianity". Could someone who wished to attack Islam and/or its adherents evade the Islamophobia laws by including a token attack on other religions and their adherents? And how would the law regard someone who claims to attack all religions indiscriminately but is accused of devoting a disproportionate amount of his bile for one religion in particular?
The example quoted by Helen is also interesting because it attacks the notion of truth embedded in the phrase "True Islam", using a correspondence notion of truth, which Richard Dawkins and other scientists take as the epistemological "gold standard". But I think many people would interpret "True Islam" in terms of some (subjective) notion of authenticity, and regard the opening statement as either begging the question or deliberate provocation.
What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer. Certainly there be, that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief; affecting free-will in thinking, as well as in acting.
Hamed Chapman, Labour would outlaw Islamophobia, says Miliband in an exclusive interview (Muslim News, 24 April 2015)
S. Abbas Raza, Richard Dawkins, Relativism and Truth (3Quarks Daily, December 2005)
Francis Bacon, Of Truth (Essays)
Terry Eagleton, Which party’s election manifesto is the best written? (Guardian 24 April 2015)
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Correspondence Theory of Truth
Wikipedia: Terrorism Act 2006.
POSIWID blog: Glory Glory Knockdown Argument (October 2005)
Update 14:20 UK time following Helen's comment. Clarified that this was my initial (but incorrect) reading of her tweet. Reworded from "attack Islam" to "attack Islam and/or its adherents".