Never too late

More than half a century after he was driven into committing suicide, UK PM Gordon Brown has apologized for the way Alan Turing was persecuted by the British government. They victimized the man who was instrumental in the defeat of the Nazis in WWII, and who made significant contributions to the field of computer science, all because he was gay. He was forced to undergo chemical castration, and committed suicide some time later.

Last year, while writing about morality, I had said

Homosexuality is another controversial issue and there are many countries in the world (including India) where the practice is outlawed through a technicality – making “unnatural sex” illegal. No distinction is made between sodomy and rape. And society gains a tool to target “different” people. The Islamic theocracy that is Iran hangs gay people. While Iran is an extreme case, I don’t think there are many countries in the world who have not, at some point of time or the other, indulged in “legal discrimination” (discrimination by government, as opposed to by private parties – there is a huge difference in these two concepts and unfortunately, a lot of liberals either don’t understand this or simply don’t want to) against homosexuals.

British mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing was probably one of morality’s greatest victims. Turing was the one who, in trying to tackle Godel’s undecidability question, came up with a design for what we now call computers; and the one who cracked the German Enigma cipher machine during the Second World War. In The Code Book, Simon Singh quotes a Bletchley Park veteran – “Fortunately the (military) authorities did not know that Turing was a homosexual. Otherwise we would have lost the war.” But the government did come to know of it later on. And it forced him to undergo hormone treatment that made him impotent. This persecution resulted in his committing suicide at the age of 42. The British rewarded his contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany with death.

There are different kinds of apologies. Some are heart-felt, others are tactical, still others are symbolic; some are costly, others cheap. It takes great courage to apologize for a mistake, which is akin to taking a stand, when the cost of the apology is greatest. In 2009, and in Britain, part of Western civilization where homophobia is out of fashion, apologizing for having treated Turing in a particular way doesn’t cost much. But it is important because it recognizes, even if it cannot correct it, a historic wrong. It would have been better if those crusaders of morality who destroyed the lives of millions based on their perverted sense of morality and “justice” had applied their minds to the issue and not indulged in the persecution of “different” people.

If one looks at it from an Indian perspective, the contrast is blindingly apparent. A civilization that lacks any sense of history and that justifies anything and everything based on tradition is yet to come to terms with homosexuality. That explains the government being “undecided” on the question, and the religious orthodoxy’s anger at the SC judgment. The British, for all their flaws and stupidities, past and present, have the decency to apologize for what they did. We, having no sense of shame, will behave as if nothing is amiss.

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  • blr_p  On September 13, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    It’s asking for a bit much from Indians when even Americans can’t completely stomach the idea. Euro’s lead the world in this area.

    Sec 377 was a hard won fight and will remain.

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