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Friday, 11 September 2009

Turing gets a belated apology

I don’t know whether it was as a direct result of the Downing Street petition, but Prime Minister Gordon Brown has issued an apology for the way the wartime mathematician code breaker Alan Turing was treated over his homosexuality.

The petition I’m thinking off – submitted by John Graham-Cumming – doesn’t expire till 20 January, but has clearly already had a bearing on Brown’s decision to speak out now, so successful has it been in collecting signatures (see also Brown’s Telegraph article here).

Among others demanding an apology was this blog’s owner, the Pink Triangle Trust, which said in a recent press release:

Notable among the campaign’s supporters is the well-known atheist and humanist Professor Richard Dawkins who said that an apology would “send a signal to the world which needs to be sent, and that Turing would still be alive today if it were not for the repressive, religion-influenced laws which drove him to despair.

The author of The God Delusion, who is due to present a forthcoming television programme for Channel 4 on Turing, said the impact of the mathematician’s war work could not be overstated. “Turing arguably made a greater contribution to defeating the Nazis than Eisenhower or Churchill. Thanks to Turing and his ‘Ultra’ colleagues at Bletchley Park, Allied generals in the field were consistently, over long periods of the war, privy to detailed German plans before the German generals had time to implement them.

“After the war, when Turing’s role was no longer top-secret, he should have been knighted and fêted as a saviour of his nation. Instead, this gentle, stammering, eccentric genius was destroyed, for a ‘crime’, committed in private, which harmed nobody,” he said. Professor Dawkins also called for a permanent financial endowment to support Bletchley Park, where Turing helped break the Nazi Enigma code.

The PTT secretary George Broadhead commented: “It is great to have such a prominent atheist and humanist as Richard Dawkins add his weight to the campaign and it is highly significant that he has identified religious-influenced laws as being to blame for Turing’s suicide. “As a gay atheist himself, Alan Turing is a humanist hero and an apology for the appalling way he was treated for being gay is long overdue.”

Brown says in the article:

Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated.

While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time, and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair, and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted, as he was convicted, under homophobic laws, were treated terribly.

Over the years, millions more lived in fear in conviction. I am proud that those days are gone and that in the past 12 years this Government has done so much to make life fairer and more equal for our LGBT community. This recognition of Alan’s status as one of Britain’s most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality, and long overdue.

To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Turing’s untimely death, the Summer 2004 issue of Gay & Lesbian Humanist carried a special three-article feature. Turing – mathematician, codebreaker, engineer, philosopher, and freethinker par excellence – is one of Britain’s most celebrated gay atheists.

Alan Turing campaign

The campaign was launched by John Graham-Cumming, a leading British computer expert and author of The Geek Atlas. To see Pink Triangle’s earlier coverage of this campaign, click here and here. To sign the petition, click here.

1 comment:

cambusken said...

A very fulsome and well deserved apology on behalf of the government of this country. Good on yer!