At the root of this objection was the fear that governments that cannot easily define what they are fighting will eventually come to be at war with everyone and everything. What, after all, constitutes “terror” — an inherently subjective term? How, pray, can we know when it has been truly vanquished? And which borders — physical, philosophical, and political — must we respect in the course of combat? These, I’d venture, were fair questions. “The essence of tyranny is not iron law,” Christopher Hitchens observed. “It is capricious law.” Now, as in the time of King John, free people should demand some ground rules.
This debate came rushing back to mind this week after it was revealed that a would-be prime minister of Great Britain, the Labour party’s Edward Miliband, had promised London’s Muslim Times that he would seek to outlaw and to punish “Islamophobia” if he were elected to high office. “Although Islamophobia already falls under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act of 2006#….#” The Independent recorded on Saturday, “Mr Miliband’s proposal would allow authorities to hand down tougher sentences for similar crimes.” Evidently, those sentences would be harsh. At present, Britons who violate the Racial and Religious Hatred Act are at risk of “up to seven years imprisonment” — not, you will note, because they have actually hurt anybody, but rather because they have uttered strings of opinion-laden words that the incumbent government happens to disfavor. This, alas, is apparently not good enough for the Labour party. Under a Miliband administration, The Independent confirmed, Britons who caustically knocked Islam would be guilty of an “aggravated crime.” “We are going to make sure it is marked on people’s records with the police,” Miliband submitted, “to make sure they root out Islamophobia as a hate crime.”
The presumption that the state has a role to play in the policing of the human soul is an utterly terrifying one, running contrary as it does to all the beautiful suppositions that served as scaffolding to the Enlightenment. If Ed Miliband believes that his fellow countrymen are intolerant rubes, he of course has every right to lobby them to change direction. That he has promised to marshal the police in disapprobation is something altogether different.