Friday 11 September 2009

A bit of good news.

Alan Turing has been posthumously vindicated by the British Government, in response to a petition on the Number 10 website which received thousands of signatures. Turing was a brilliant mathematician and code-breaker who played a significant part in the Allied victory in World War Two. In 1952, he was tried for 'gross indecency' under the homophobic laws of the time, and sentenced to chemical castration. He took his own life two years later.

Gordon Brown's statement was actually pretty damn moving -

On behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.

A queer friend pointed out to me today that thanks to this little act on the part of the government, far too late for poor Turing himself, millions of people who had never heard his story now know exactly who he was, why he was a hero, and why his death was so tragically unjust. And that means as much as any personal victory for supporters of the man himself.

In other breaking news, it's eight years since the World Trade Centre collapsed, and Caster Semenya is biologically intersexed. Now be about your business.


  1. Sometimes I wonder how they motivated people to fight World War 2. Sure, the Nazis were homophobic and anti-Semitic, but the UK was as well, albeit not in such a horrible way. But Jewish refugees still manage to get interned. I reckon the motivating force was, "Fight the Nazis or they'll make you learn German!" It was the thought of actually learning another language and having to speak it that made British forces so determined.

    This is, of course, a very cynical thought and not really true. Great news about Turing, bit sad about Semenya. Maybe she could take up unisex sports like triathlons? Are they unisex? Is Rose confused again??????

  2. Britain went to war against Germany for one reason only: to stop Nazi Germany and its inherent and obvious evil. When the Germans invaded Poland, Britain could no longer stand on the side lines. They had an agreement that was (if I remember my history lessons correctly) unilateral - Britain was obliged to go to war on behalf of Poland, but as no one reasonably expected Hitler to march into Whitehall, there was no reciprocation. Britain was also an ally of Holland, Belgium and France.

    I disagree that, Rose, with your assertion that Britain was anti-semitic. Rightly or wrongly, homophobia wasn't a consideration back then. Being homosexual was against the law, and that was that! (Interesting story about why lesbianism was never included: Queen Victoria, when asked, said "women don't do that!" So lesbians were never included in the anti-homosexual laws. Let's face it: enlightened social policies, were not that enlightened! It's all a matter of degrees. Anyway, Mosley's Brown Shirts did get strong anti-Fascist protests. London's East End, the target of many Fascist protests and crimes, was never a ghetto. And Jews were never officially discriminated against. Sure, there was a lot of overt discrimination - it comes across in the language, even now. But to say Britain was anti-Semitic is incorrect.

    I'm not sure what the apology means. It doesn't do anyone any good - it's not likely to bring comfort to a corpse! I don't see how it's a victory for anything - except, perhaps, getting a government to admit its past laws were wrong. He did deserve better treatment, especially because of his brilliance and the work he did. I read one estimate that his work helped shave a year off the war! Acknowledging his contribution in a meaningful way is good. But apologizing for something I, as a Briton born well after his death, am not responsible for? If he were alive, the apology might mean something, but he isn't, and it doesn't.

    And, finally, re the WTC. I was just thinking about that day. About how beautiful it was - blue sky, clear, crisp air. Such needless, insane, incoherent violence. The worst moment, the moment when it really hit me, was, I think, when we picked up paper from the WTC that had landed in our Brooklyn garden. And seeing those pillars of smoke for days after. I crossed the WTC Plaza often in the 11 years I worked in Wall St businesses. Despite those years, I didn't know anyone killed in the towers. I do know one woman who is alive because she went to fetch a birthday card, not long before the first plane hit. And people think our work in Afghanistan is done? It's hardly started.

    Carolyn Ann

  3. Thank you for pointing out that there was indeed strong opposition to Moseley. However, since one of my great-grandfathers was interned with his son (my great-uncle) during part of World War 2, I do question this lack of sensitivity towards Jewish refugees. Of course it was much, much preferable to what they could have faced in Germany. It would be stupid and insensitive of me to suggest otherwise, but it still shows a rather terrible lack of awareness on the part of the authorities.

  4. My word, did Gordon Brown do something right? Of course, it's hardly controversial now to say we shouldn't have convicted gay men just for being gay and sentenced them to hormone injections, so even Brown couldn't cock that one up.

    "Maybe she could take up unisex sports like triathlons?" Or maybe, because Caster Semenya is a woman, she'll continue taking part in women's athletics. There's nothing to be sad about. She's still the same person she's always been, but some people's aversion to difference somehow means there's something "wrong" with her.

    Regarding WWII, even bigoted old Blighty could see the Nazis tramping all over Europe and imposing their viscous rule on the German people. The casual anti-semitism of the British in the '30s is shocking today, but it was nothing compared to the systematic attacks on German Jews. If you want to see what the world thought of the Nazis before WWII, take a look at the Google News archive for the '30s. There were no illusions about the Nazis.

    Re: the date, I've already made myself cry by watching the Twin Towers documentary. Now some Ani DiFranco.

  5. Caster Semenya has not been shown to be biologically intersex. Some reports, which are not official, claim she has a higher than average level of testosterone and that's a hell of a long way from intersex (for example, polycystic overies give high testosterone levels) and I don't think anyone is helped by jumping to intersex diagnoses.

    Look at the levels of careful wording on the website - "BBC sport understands" "tests likely to show". There are NO results yet, there will be no results for weeks yet and speculation in the meantime is distasteful and probably very upsetting for Semenya.

  6. Caralyn Anne - It is naive to assert that Britain's motives in WWII were of an entirely noble anti fascist pursuit- I'm sure many of the young men that gave their lives were fighting fascism, but the British state itself was notoriously anti Semitic. The first immigration laws in this country were designed to prohibit Jewish immigrants from settling in Britain. There is evidence to suggest that the British government were aware of the 'final solution'and had photographic evidence of the erection of concentration camps long before war broke out. Post the invasion of Poland however, it became clear that Hitler's proposed empire would endanger Britain's power in Europe, and this could not be tolerated by our imperialist nation. This was illustrated by the internment of Jewish immigrants and by the refusal of Britain to take more Jewish refugees, many of whom met their deaths in Europe as a result. This was just as much a war for land than to save a people. We must also not forget the jews of the channel islands, who were murdered on British soil after being handed to German soldiers by their (to be fair un-armed and frightened) neighbours to meet their deaths, with no protection from the British state. If you want to see what would have happened had the uk lost the war, look no further.
    Despite many British peoples disgust at the murder of innocent people, jews had long been scapegoated in this country as much as anywhere else in Europe. The aristocracy was and still is littered with unashamed fascists and anti Semites who were conflicted between nationalism and Nazism. What happened in Germany could have happened anywhere in the right circumstances, as the Jew as scapegoat has for so long been such a common European motif.
    Re. Alan Turing - His treatment was no worse in the light of him being a brilliant man, but his eminence does bring light to the inhumane treatment of gay people until shockingly recently. I feel Gordon did the right thing issuing this apology; a great injustice was committed and at a time where casual homophobia is still as endemic as anti semitism once was, the state should reinforce a message that it is unacceptable. We cannot go back in time and save a brilliant man whose private life was used to condemn and humiliate him, but we can stand up and say no more, and respectfully say it in his name.
    The story of Semenya sadly shows us that we have far to go before we stop publicly violating others - so what if her chromosomes are a little unusual? this rearkable woman has a talent that deserves celebrating. It is disgusting that so little regard has been shown to her medical privacy; just another example of how women's genitalia is considered public property - because this is clearly a woman. It is also in my opinion an example of racist double standards. I highly doubt the Olympic body would expect to get away with its insulting, and lets face it fascistic, (because as penny has said - who exactly are they to decree absolute the complex nature and gender? and what gives them the right to put a competitor in a position of basically forced gender screening?) behaviours against a white American woman. Grrr.

  7. Jesus i should really remember the existence of paragraphs.

  8. There is something a bit rich about Brown's comments on the war to fight fascism, including homophobia, when this was done to Turing in *1952*. I agree with the beginning of Rachel's post here.

    Some of those people 'born after 1945 into a Europe which is united, democratic, at peace' etc, would have been 7 years old at the time of Turing's mistreatment. Francoism (the archetypal fascist regime against which the spanish civil war was fought) continued till 1975. The Greek junta was from 1967-74.

    Now seems a very odd historical moment to be celebrating the defeat of fascism, given the rise of the far-right across Europe, in an economic climate that resembles the 1930s. (To complicate things slightly, I think that the BNP's gains in the UK specifically are smaller than the media is portraying them to be, but that says something quite worrying about the media).

    Still, Alan Turing certainly deserves commemoration!!

  9. Rachel: First, my name is "Carolyn Ann". I'll happily accept "Carolyn", though.

    Secondly: I can't figure out if you read my comment, or not.

    Britain was not, in 1939, part of the Axis Powers. You seem to think it was? The simple fact is Britain went to war against Nazi Germany not for any economic, strategic, territorial, natural resource or any other reason. They stood up against the Germans because someone had to, and Britain was not going to be swallowed into the Hitler's Third Reich.

    At the time, Great Britain was a world superpower, a waning one, but it was still a formidable foe. It managed to hold the Germans at bay - no small feat! It also imprisoned Nazis at the onset of war; it did not imprison any Jews simply because they were Jews.

    Were British policies in the 1930's, 40' and even 50's, toward the Jews anything but erratic? No. They were, at times, discriminatory, illogical and even laudable. Sometimes they managed to be all three at once! I am not going to second guess Churchill's decisions in the war; he had his reasons, and more than a few of his decisions are now considered to be odious. I wasn't there, and as such I can only say that what happened, happened. War forces unpalatable decisions. So what?

    (The laws against the Jews were in, what? 1200?)

    Anyway, the British people were not anti-Semitic as a whole. It seems you are bent on proving otherwise? As a Briton I refute, and am offended by, your claims that Britain in WW2 and immediately prior was anti-Semitic.

    Carolyn Ann

  10. Come on, do you really think that Britain (or any other country for that matter) would go to war to help people?
    War is always about economics, land and resources. That's the way governments and the aristocracy work.
    As for a posthumous appology it makes people think. It raises the issue of gay rights at a time when people are still being discriminated against for their sexuality.
    Surely there should be an apology for all people convicted of crimes that we now recognise as not being criminal at all?
    No-one is saying it's your fault, Carolyn Ann, it's about recognising that people were treated unfairly. And surely that's a good thing?

  11. Actually the Anti Aliens Act of 1905 (the first introduction of immigration controls in great Britain ) originated in a desire of the Right to prohibit or seriously limit Jewish immigration from eastern Europe. Whilst its final implementation was watered down it is retrospectively accepted as an act rooted in antisemitism; now translated into a thoroughly racist and class-ist system. 1905 is hardly a long time ago.

    With respect, why are you so offended by an assertion that anti semitism has been common in Briatin? It is by no means to suggest that the entire country is intrinsically racist; certainly no more here than anywhere. It is not a personal attack on your 'Britishness'. I too am British - a British jew. It does nobody any good to deny the existence of any kind of racism , nor its roots or consequences - it is not about condemning people but learning from history. Sorry for mis spelling your nmae - i am dyslexic, it was not intentional.

    Jess - very true regarding apology or at least recognition of all those people treated badly under inhumane former laws. It is my hope that Britain will one day (soon) apologize to the thousands of innocent people it routinely interns in prison camps around sleepy parts of the country, whose only crime is the desire for a better life and freedom of movement.

  12. #Alan Turing has been posthumously vindicated by the British Government#

    'Vindicated'of what? He was found guilty of gross indecency, having admitted the charge, and chose chemical castration rather than prison. How has he been vindicated? The fact that homosexual acts were illegal at the time is a yet another fuckin stain on UK history...but it's hardly the only one. Yet the fact remains, he broke the law, as it then stood, and was punished...he's been vindicated of nothing.

    To imagine that he needed to be vindicated is an odd position to take, Brown has simply acknowledged that the law as it then stood was an outrageous piece of shit. Why hasn't Oscar Wilde been vindicated btw? Wasn't his crime gross indecency too? And what about all those starving kids hanged for stealing a loaf or the 30 million Indians starved in the name of the Empire's economic determinism?

    And why does a fucked up law passed and maintained to appease the prejudices of a cynical, duplicitous and hypocritical establishment say anything about about widespread popular homophobia?

    This apologising for anachronistic laws and practices business is a slimy, cynical, meaningless stunt...and how about he apologises for a dumbed down, gobshite education system which is probably a good part of the reason that most people have never heard of him...his loss was a tragedy. However, anyone with a passing interest in Mathematics, Philosophy or History has heard of him...the pity is, you can pass right through an entire primary, secondary, further and higher education these days without ever developing a "passing interest in Mathematics, Philosophy or History".

    We're all too busy concentrating on elf, safety, citizenship, interpersonal skills, Combined Humanities and BTec Numeracy...Traditional academic topics are catered for an "all shall have prizes" McAssessment regime...fuck me...Alan Turing would be Turing in his grave.

    Also, the Queen Victoria / Lesbianism myth (mentioned above) is just ranks alongside swans can break your arm and carrots help you see in the dark. Victorai had no power to amend legislation and was so unpopular through most of her reign that to even to try to do so would have led to a constitutional shitstorm. See...we all need a bit more history on the curriculum.

  13. yes but swans cam break your arm.

    quite right about the fucking education system though. At 14 i was made to choose between 'history' or 'geography' - a pretty huge scope of loss. Still, i came out of school with an excellent theoretical knowledge of a hypothetical park and ride scheme in the lake district, so all was not lost.

  14. Many good points from all of you. I think the reasons the UK went to war in 1939 were various. I hope my slightly facetious remark did not offend anyone.

  15. Rachel, your assertion re the Alien Act of 1905 is wrong. I urge you to read the Wikipedia article about it. Granted, Wikipedia is far from an authoritative source, but I think it sufficient for this discussion.

    I am not asserting that Britain has a history with racism, and even some officially sanctioned anti-Semitism. You made a sweeping statement that I found offensive. I quote:

    "but the British state itself was notoriously anti Semitic"

    Britain went to war because Poland was invaded - not after the fact. Britain had no power-base in Europe. It was a waning superpower, but it hadn't be replaced as the superpower. That happened after the war. You made some claims in your assertion re Poland: prove them. With unbiased sources, please.

    Monkeyfish: The story re Queen Victoria was one I read in a political history of the gay movement in Britain. I read it over 20 years ago, so perhaps some of my details are fuzzy. What I do dispute is your assertion that Queen Victoria was unpopular. Considering her impact on the entire world, her influence was not because she was the Queen of the latest superpower, but because people, the world over, liked her. To be sure, quite a few did not. But a plurality seem to have held her in great affection.

    Considering her involvement in British legislative affairs - which would not have triggered a constitutional crisis at the time (not least because Britain did not, and still does not, have a constitution - it is entirely plausible she would have weighed in with an opinion about female sexuality. Heck, the Queen getting involved in legislative affairs even now wouldn't trigger a constitutional crisis. I'm reasonably certain, but cannot prove, that many would say "it's about time Parliament had adult supervision!"

    But we digress.
    Carolyn Ann

  16. Oops. I need to correct a typo. Somehow I didn't include the word "doesn't" in this sentence:
    I am not asserting that Britain has a history with racism, and even some officially sanctioned anti-Semitism.

    It should read: I am not asserting that Britain doesn't have a history with racism, and even some officially sanctioned anti-Semitism.

    My apologies.
    Carolyn Ann

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