Plato, Aristotle, the Home Office, and asylum interviews

There is an old joke, or story, about somebody who applies for a job as a sales assistant (or similar) and they are invited to an interview. During the course of the interview the interviewer comes to the conclusion that they don’t want to employ this person, and then they suddenly ask “who is your favourite philosopher?”, in the expectation that the interviewee won’t be able to answer successfully.

It is of course hilarious, and hilarity became reality when the Home Office gave an asylum interview to Hamza bin Walayat, a Pakistani asylum-seeker who claims to be a humanist (roughly speaking, somebody who does not rely on religious understanding or explanations). They asked him a question about Plato and Aristotle. Unfortunately he failed to answer the question satisfactorily and his asylum claim was refused.

And as a result of this case 120 “leading philosophers” have written a letter to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd in protest saying, inter alia (and surely with some justification), that knowledge of Plato and Aristotle is not a reliable indicator of being a humanist.

We observe two things about this: firstly, it is difficult to imagine that 120 philosophers can all be “leading” – surely some of them must be following?

Secondly – and rather more seriously – the Home Office often asks these “knowledge testing” questions during asylum interviews and failure to answer correctly can have dire consequences.

Mr Walayat will hopefully have an in-country right of appeal to the Immigration Tribunal, where his alleged lack of knowledge of ancient Greek philosophers and its degree of importance can be aired in a proper legal forum.

And readers may be interested to know that the success rate of asylum appeals is quite high (around 40%), which indicates that the Home Office decision-making is not terribly good in the first place, and if your application is refused it might therefore well be worth appealing.

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