Tuesday 26 June 2012

Alan Turing: a Queer Hero

[Image description: statue of Alan Turing draped in rainbow flag and bedecked with cards, flowers and candles next to which is the writer in his wheelchair.]

Last weekend was the 100th birthday of Alan Turing (see Wikipedia for a good, full, in-depth article). Perhaps many will never have heard of him. However, if it had not been for him, we Brits might now have been under the rule of a NAZI régime and you the reader and I might not have been reading this blog on a computer right now.

[Image description: mosaic of rainbow flag situated on the ground in front of Alan Turing statue]

If the reader has not heard of this great man, it may be due to the fact that he was a homosexual and he was hounded by the state he served and helped save, the fascistic Britain of the 1950's. Some would argue that the witch-hunt initiated in the UK was at the behest of the USA. We none of us come out well in this sorry tale.

Who knows what insights we might have gained had he not died of cyanide poisoning. This is generally believed to have been an act of suicide; but the BBC recently released an article (Gay codebreaker's defiance keeps memory alive) that suggests it could have been suicide or an accident or even murder. His untimely demise was so badly mishandled and investigated that we shall probably never know why he died nor the background to his death.

As a resident of Manchester for much of my life, I consider myself an honorary Mancunian and as such take pride in our recognition of this great fellow:

"Turing has been honoured in various ways in Manchester, the city where he worked towards the end of his life. In 1994, a stretch of the A6010 road (the Manchester city intermediate ring road) was named "Alan Turing Way". A bridge carrying this road was widened, and carries the name Alan Turing Bridge. A statue of Turing was unveiled in Manchester on 23 June 2001 in Sackville Park, between the University of Manchester building on Whitworth Street and the Canal Street gay village." (Wikipedia, op. cit.)

[Image description: commemoration plaque which reads:
Alan Mathison Turing
Father of Computer Science
Mathematician, Logician
Wartime Codebreaker
Victim of Prejudice
"Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth
but supreme beauty, a beauty cold and austere
like that of sculpture." - Bertrand Russell ]

It also pleases me that city councillors, such as Kevin Peel, and local MP's, such as John Leech, paid tribute to him, both in their Twitter feeds and by attending a commemoration ceremony. However, the fact that ordinary citizens did so, is a mark of the esteem in which Mancunians hold Turing.

[Image description: Mancunians paying their respects at the Alan Turing statue.]

I actually went on the anniversary of his birth to pay my respects. I was hoping to see the Olympic flame arrive for reasons I shall explain below. Unfortunately, the torch-bearing was delayed, and I was too ill to remain. Nonetheless, the torch did indeed detour through Sackville Park, the location of the Turing statue, and made obeisance to Alan Turing (see photo below). This included war-veteran Capt. Martin Hewitt kissing the statue. What better than a military man seeking forgiveness for the way one of theirs was treated and simultaneously paying respect to our long-fallen hero.

©LOCOG/Getty Images

Above all, the most important symbolism for me, is that of the NAZI creation of the Olympic torch relay (Olympic Flame) having to pay respect to the man who helped bring them down. Exquisite!

Perhaps the fate of Alan Turing is a modern morality tale. In our rush to condemn and destroy, we may actually be harming ourselves and our futures. (See also my article on Genetic Discrimination.)

[Image description: the decorated statue of Alan Turing sitting on a bench holding his nightly apple.]