So. Finally a decision is made about Alan Turing. It’s such a pity it’s the wrong one: divisive, insulting and, though few seem to notice, homophobic.
He should not have been pardoned. Now, before you get all shouty, ranty and insulting on my ass, let’s get one thing straight: I am in no way homophobic. I shouldn’t have to point this out but so many seem to think this action a good thing that I fear the emotive muscle has been overstretched. We saw this when bin Laden was murdered. Let’s consider how laws, ultimately, operate.
A law is passed because certain behaviour is considered wrong, and thus needs sanctions for punishment and deterrence.
A law becomes broken repeatedly.
The law’s status is terminally undermined by the behaviour and attitude of the populus, whose views the lawmakers are duty-bound to reflect.
The law, now farcical, is repealed.
That Turing broke the law is not in question.
That Turing was punished according to the law is not in question.
That we now consider that particular law to be unjust is not in question: it was repealed.
At one point, the weight of opinion was that the law was just. It may well be that Turing acted at a time when the weight of opinion was that this law was unjust, and the law (being, as Bumble pointed out, an ass), does walk rather slowly. This makes him very unlucky. But that’s life.
Turing was treated abominably, yes. Turing was treated unjustly? Technically, no.
Ought he be pardoned? No.
The problem is twofold:
Pardoning him implies that he committed what is still considered to be an offence. This is untrue.
Pardoning him and not the thousands of others prosecuted under the same laws is plain wrong.
If we pardon one individual for what was an offence (whether it ought to have been or not) because of his other qualities, it sends a simple message to the other, unpardoned individuals: you are worthless.
To pardon Turing says simply ‘we’re sorry we treated you so badly just because you were homosexual. After all, we could have turned a blind eye, you being so clever ‘n’ all. What were we thinking?’ But it says this to Turing alone. To all the others it says simply ‘you lot? Who cares? We wouldn’t have missed one of you if you’d all killed yourselves.’
Justice Minister Chris Grayling, after waxing lyrical over Turing’s contribution to the war effort, was quoted by the BBC as saying that
His later life was overshadowed by his conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed,
True enough. Note the formulation ‘we would now’. But then he said this, which, frankly, should be his resignation speech because it shows his fundamental lack of understanding of his job:
Turing deserves to be remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man.
The first bit, no complaints. The second? Utterly unforgiveable.
Pardoning Turing is not only unjust but deeply insulting to all the others prosecuted and persecuted under the same laws. The best thing to do is to work to ensure that unjust and unrepresentative laws are repealed more quickly in the future, to work harder to ensure a climate which encourages those who are racist, sexist, homophobic and so on to understand why their beliefs are wrong, and to foster a society which treats all according to their personal qualities rather than their belonging to one or more groups.
Pardoning Turing is homophobic, insulting, divisive and non-democratic.