Category Archives: fascism

UK Government says sorry to Alan Turing after 57 years

I’ve just recieved a response from the epetitions site regarding the call for an apology for the treatment and recognition of the hugh service to the war effort of Alan Turing, father of the modern computer. He was instrumental in breaking the German’s “Enigma Code” during WW2 and he was gay.

The history of Alan Turing is a sad one. In 1952 Turing was prosecuted for gross indecency after admitting a sexual relationship with a man. A few years after he broke the German’s code for the British government – which Winston Churchill claimed was the most significant, tide-turning victory of WW2 – he was outed as a homosexual and arrested. At the time, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. It was also illegal. He lost his security clearance, effectively canning him from his government job, and was convicted of “gross indecency.” To avoid prison, Turing chose to instead undergo a chemical castration process. Two years later, he committed suicide.

The campaign was the idea of computer scientist John Graham-Cumming.

He was seeking an apology for the way the mathematician was treated after his conviction. He also wrote to the Queen to ask for Turing to be awarded a posthumous knighthood.

The campaign was backed by author Ian McEwan, scientist Richard Dawkins and gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. The petition posted on the Downing Street website attracted thousands of signatures.

He is most famous for his code-breaking work at Bletchley Park during WWII, helping to create the Bombe that cracked messages enciphered with the German Enigma machines. However, he also made significant contributions to the emerging fields of artificial intelligence and computing. In 1936 he established the conceptual and philosophical basis for the rise of computers in a seminal paper called On Computable Numbers and in 1950 he devised a test to measure the intelligence of a machine. Today it is known as the Turing Test.

After the war he worked at many institutions including the University of Manchester, where he worked on the Manchester Mark 1, one of the first recognisable modern computers.

There is a memorial statue of him in Manchester’s Sackville Gardens which was unveiled in 2001.

So today in 2009, some 57 years later, we get some recongition from the government

Thank you for signing this petition. The Prime Minister has (got some intern to write) written a
response. Please read below.

Prime Minister: 2009 has been a year of deep reflection – a chance for
Britain, as a nation, to commemorate the profound debts we owe to those who
came before. A unique combination of anniversaries and events have stirred
in us that sense of pride and gratitude which characterise the British
experience. Earlier this year I stood with Presidents Sarkozy and Obama to
honour the service and the sacrifice of the heroes who stormed the beaches
of Normandy 65 years ago. And just last week, we marked the 70 years which
have passed since the British government declared its willingness to take
up arms against Fascism and declared the outbreak of World War Two. So I am
both pleased and proud that, thanks to a coalition of computer scientists,
historians and LGBT activists, we have this year a chance to mark and
celebrate another contribution to Britain’s fight against the darkness of
dictatorship (irony?) ; that of code-breaker Alan Turing.

Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on
breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that,
without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could
well have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can
point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt
of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that
he was treated so inhumanely. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross
indecency’ in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence – and he
was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison – was chemical
castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own
life just two years later.

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 (a bit hollow if you had nothing to do with it). 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 of conviction.

I am proud that those days are gone and that in the last 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.

But even more than that, Alan deserves recognition for his contribution to
humankind. For those of us born after 1945, into a Europe which is united,
democratic and at peace, it is hard to imagine that our continent was once
the theatre of mankind’s darkest hour. It is difficult to believe that in
living memory, people could become so consumed by hate – by
anti-Semitism, by homophobia, by xenophobia and other murderous prejudices
– that the gas chambers and crematoria became a piece of the European
landscape as surely as the galleries and universities and concert halls
which had marked out the European civilisation for hundreds of years. It is
thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism,
people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war
are part of Europe’s history and not Europe’s present.

So 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.

Gordon Brown

If you would like to help preserve Alan Turing’s memory for future
generations, please donate here: http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/

Petition information – http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/turing/

The British government’s apology, while appreciated,  is long overdue.

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DNA fingerprinting 25 years old (but DNA databases are wrong)

The scientist behind DNA fingerprinting has called for a change to the law governing DNA databases on the 25th anniversary of his discovery.

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys uncovered the process by chance in his laboratory at Leicester University. The technique has since been used to solve crimes and identity cases. But it has also led to controversy over profiles kept on the national DNA database. “Innocent people do not belong on that database,” he said. The scientist stumbled across the groundbreaking development on 10 September, 1984. He realised that variable patterns in the structure of DNA could be used to distinguish one person from another.

‘Blue skies research’ It led to the development of DNA fingerprinting, which has been used to solve a range of crimes. Last year, 17,614 offences were solved using a DNA match, including 83 killings and 184 rapes. It has also been developed to help solve unanswered questions and disputes over personal identity, paternity, immigration, conservation and cloning.

In an interview to mark the anniversary of his discovery, Professor Jeffreys spoke of the importance of allowing academics freedom to research. Professor Jeffreys He said academics should be able to pursue “unfettered, fundamental, curiosity-driven” research. “Blue skies” research, which led to discoveries such as his own, was “the ultimate engine of all scientific and technological evolution,” he said, warning: “You lose that at your peril.”

He renewed his calls for the government to change the law governing the UK’s DNA databases – particularly the practice in England and Wales of keeping the DNA profiles of thousands of people who have neither been charged nor convicted. There are now more than five million profiles on the national DNA database, a rise of 40% in two years. He told the BBC: “My view is very, very simple, has been right from the outset. “Innocent people do not belong on that database. Branding them as future criminals is not proportionate response in the fight against crime. “And I’ve met a fair number of these people and some of these people are very, very upset and are distressed by the fact that their DNA is on that database. They cannot get it off and they feel as if they’re branded as criminals.


Now Christians start to burn books!

A Christian group in Wisconsin is actually suing for the right to engage in a public book burning to destroy copies of a book they consider to be “explicitly vulgar, racial [sic], and anti-Christian”:

The offending book is Francesca Lia Block’s Baby Be-Bop, a young adult novel in which a boy, struggling with his homosexuality, is beaten up by a homophobic gang. The complaint, which according to the American Library Association also demands $120,000 (£72,000) in compensatory damages for being exposed to the book in a display at West Bend Community Memorial Library, was lodged by four men from the Christian Civil Liberties Union.

There was also another group that just fought to move the book into the adult section of the library, which calls itself the West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries. The Christian Civil Liberties Union, the West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries–aren’t those exactly the kind of Orwellian names you’d expect pro-fascist, anti-free speech organizations to call themselves?

They’re charging that the book’s physical presence in their local library caused them mental and emotional distress and that its alleged derogatory language “put one’s life in possible jeopardy, adults and children alike.” Wow! That must be some book to actually put lives in jeopardy. And since this book has been around for 15 years now, I would love to hear about all the lives who were destroyed by its mere existence.

The West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries claims they wish. . .

“. . .to protect children from accessing them without their parents’ knowledge and supervision.”

The old “protect them from themselves” gambit–a fascist classic. Fortunately, the library committee stuck to their guns by keeping the books in the young adult section. But the other group decided they wanted to burn the books.

“The word ‘faggot’ is very derogatory and slanderous to all males,” the suit continues. “Using the word ‘Nigger’ is dangerously offensive, disrespectful to all people. These words can permeate violence.” The suit also claims that the book “constitutes a hate crime, and that it degrades the community”, but surely their intended burning of this particular book is  a greater offense.

“They’ve filed a claim against the city of West Bend and the city has to decide if it is valid,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, acting director of the ALA’s office for intellectual freedom. “Their insurance company is evaluating the claim, but I would be very surprised if they found any merit in it … Should they find any merit in this claim, we would certainly support the library in fighting it.”

The legal challenge follows a lengthy campaign by some West Bend residents to restrict access to teenage books they deemed sexually explicit from library shelves, which was eventually thrown out at the start of June.

“Obviously we were really pleased with the outcome to that – there was a unanimous vote to keep the books in the library and we thought the matter should be over,” said Larry Siems, director of the Freedom to Write programme at PEN America.

Siems said there was clearly “a bit of theatre” in the lawsuit which followed. “They’ve filed a lawsuit which has little possibility of going forward legally, and they’re asking for damages which include the right to burn a book. It does seem more to gain publicity than a real serious challenge.” But, he said, PEN remained very concerned about the impulse behind the claim. “This is a group of people trying aggressively to rid the library of these books and that’s very serious – it needs to be fought.”

The claimants, he said, “have a right to continue to express their views, and this in a way is a creative attempt to express those views”. But it’s “also a dangerous game when you’re talking about something like book burning, calling on the law to burn books. It’s certainly completely un-American, and if they paused, I think they would agree.”


Is fascism on the march again?

Does the election of two BNP MEPs and the success of the far right elsewhere in Europe mean we are facing the threat of fascism? Or is this just a protest vote that will quickly fade?

Michael Burleigh

Author of The Third Reich, A New History

We should be wary about the rise of the far right but not panicky. Even though I write commentary pieces for the Daily Mail, I am not given to hysteria. I don’t like all these stupid historical analogies – this is not a re-run of the 1930s. In some ways, history can box you in and limit your options. We live in a very different world, and these parties organise themselves in a very different way. Hitler didn’t Twitter.

Conditions in Europe are very different now from those that prevailed in the 1930s. We haven’t had a catastrophic European war, with resentments about how that ended. We should also be cautious about saying that an economic recession inevitably leads to the rise of the far right. The fascists came to power in Italy long before the Depression. There is no automatic link. In Germany, most of the unemployed voted for the communists.

It is too early to say whether the rightwing parties that did well in the European election will have any historical significance, or whether they will offer a Europe-wide threat to mainstream politics. Although I suspect they may be better co-ordinated than leftwing parties, they are all subtly different. We should also be aware that rightwing parties can evolve. It is odd that the evolution of communist parties into Eurocommunist parties was recognised, but these rightwing parties are seen as mysteriously static and rooted in the 1930s. You just have to look at the BNP to see how it is trying to adapt its approach to changed circumstances, ramping up its hostility to the EU while playing down other aspects of its policy.

The left has a vested interest in playing up the threat of fascism. It uses it to reoxygenate itself: Margaret Hodge has been doing this for years, and Labour was doing it again before this election. A better approach is to take the BNP seriously. Don’t turn them into martyrs by banning them from the airwaves. Ask them about their other policies: how they would get us out of recession; what their foreign policy is. Launch an assault on the BNP brand, and don’t let them appropriate symbols of Britishness – such as the Spitfire they were using on their posters in this election.

We shouldn’t panic about these results. The real story is that the centre-right has done very well across Europe. Where far-right parties have been elected in the past they have tended to be woefully incompetent and lackadaisical, and on the whole they haven’t been re-elected. Supporters of the BNP tend to be disaffected Labour voters who are voting as an act of defiance against the political elite – and the elite has given them plenty to be defiant about. I’d only start to worry if this became a trend. The real danger, though, may come in the Baltic states and eastern Europe. Countries there have been hit by severe economic turbulence, they have little experience of democracy and politics is volatile. Parties can come from nowhere and win power.

Richard Overy

Professor of history at Exeter University and author of The Morbid Age: Britain Between the Wars

The BNP have been around for a long time and have never managed to make a serious breakthrough, so we have to get this into perspective. This should be seen as a protest vote at a difficult moment; it does not mean that the UK electorate is swinging in favour of fascism.

The Ukip vote is more interesting. That is a vote the BNP might have been expected to pick up, and if it had won 20% or more, that would have been worrying. With the loss of public confidence in parliament, growing nationalism and alarm at terrorism, this is a moment when you might have expected votes to flow to the BNP. A loss of confidence in parliamentary institutions is characteristic of all periods when fascists have come to power – in Italy and Germany, for example – but on this occasion the BNP has not done especially well. People have preferred to vote for Ukip. It is essentially a protest vote at a moment of crisis in the political system. Parliamentary politics will eventually be restored, but almost certainly not under Gordon Brown.

I am more worried about the drift to the right in the rest of Europe, where the mood is fearful, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam and deeply hostile to the left. Europe clearly feels embattled because of factors such as terrorism and the rise of China, and has been moving to the right for some time. But we shouldn’t interpret this rightwing drift as a return to fascism.

Fascism with a capital F was a phenomenon of the 20s and 30s. It was a revolutionary movement asserting a violent imperialism and promising a new social order. There is nothing like that now. Far-right parties now are based on fear – fear of immigration, fear of aliens, fear of being Europeanised. They have no vision of a new social order, nor can they legally campaign for the replacement of a democratic government by an authoritarian regime. This is a protest vote by fearful people.

Kathleen Burk

Professor of modern and contemporary history at University College London

If we think about Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts, we shouldn’t be too apprehensive about where the BNP might go in the future. Even at their height, the entire membership of the British Union of Fascists could barely raise a single marching column. It is unfortunate that the BNP have won seats and some will see it as alarming, but I can’t see it spreading all over the country. The BNP did badly in east London, for instance, where they would surely have hoped to do well, especially at a time of economic recession.

I cannot imagine what cataclysm would have to happen for a far-right party not only to be able to grow but to win power in the UK. This is an extremely old country with old mores, and the great rump of the people are not going to be attracted by a far-right party. What we have seen is the sort of protest vote that often happens midterm, and it won’t occur at the general election, when real power is at stake.

The only countries in Europe that I would be apprehensive about are Austria, which did, after all, welcome the Nazis back in 1938; Romania, which has a nasty rightwing party; and Hungary, where the Roma are a big issue. Poland is encouraging in the way it has taken to membership of the European Union, and the election there has been won by a mainstream centre-right party. In general, this is not at all like the 30s: some voters are supporting alternative fringe parties, but I would be astonished if they were able to consolidate their power.

Eric Hobsbawm

Author of The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century (1914-1991), among others

It is not the threat from the extreme right that is the most striking characteristic of these elections, though clearly there is a shift to the right, and centre-right governments are likely to make more concessions to the far right. The real story is the crisis of the left .

We have been here before, in the 1930s when the net effect of the Depression was to strengthen the right and nullify the left – Labour was reduced to 50 MPs in 1931. The left rose again, but I am not optimistic about it being able to do so this time. Social democratic parties across Europe are in decline. That decline is not as dramatic as the communists a generation ago, but it is still marked. The European left relied on a working class that no longer exists in its old form, and in order to recover it will need to find a new constituency. That may be hard.

The left is in trouble everywhere: Labour in the UK, the French socialists, the Italian democrats. The Spanish socialists, one of the few leftwing parties to gain in recent years, have also slipped. The SPD in Germany are not doing as badly as expected, but they are down to around 20%, and these losses are not compensated by the votes for the New Left party. We have seen the demoralisation of the French left and a degree of disintegration of the left in Germany. Social democrats will need a new vision as well as a new constituency.

Joanna Bourke

Professor of history at Birkbeck College, London

We shouldn’t panic, though nor should we be complacent. The levels of racial hatred and antisemitism and all those things that the far right feed on are remarkably small in comparison with the past and in comparison with the rest of Europe and the United States. The far right has much more purchase in the US than it does in the UK, especially the religious right.

Here I tend to be much more optimistic about British institutions and about the ways they have managed these sorts of hatreds. What was interesting about Mosley in the 1930s is that our institutions did not give legitimacy to the claims of the far right. They didn’t make them into scapegoats or martyrs; they responded with the force of law in a fairly reasonable fashion. If you oppress them or deal with them heavyhandedly, it only serves to unite them and justify them using force in return.

In Italy, the fascists, faced by an oppressive state, were seen as martyrs, and that won them popular support. In the UK, they were seen as thugs and marginalised. Mosley’s New Party, which sought to work through the democratic system, attracted a large membership, but once he openly became a fascist and his party became virulently antisemitic and anti-immigrant, that support melted away. Don’t censor or oppress the BNP. Marginalise and ridicule them. Ridicule is an underestimated weapon.

David Kynaston

Research fellow at Kingston University and author of Austerity Britain

As Nadezhda Mandelstam, wife of Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, said of Stalinism in her book Hope Against Hope, “Don’t think it can’t happen to you.” There are definite parallels between Germany in the prewar years and now, most obviously the economic crisis that sparked mass unemployment. The Wall Street Crash took place in 1929 but it wasn’t until January 1933 that Hitler became chancellor of Germany; I would suggest that we are a long way from seeing the worst of our own economic crisis and if we date the start as being September 2008 then we still have a while to go in which the far right could gain a stronghold.

More worryingly, the recession has been accompanied by a rise in populism and a loss of faith in democratic politics; the sort of people who, a generation ago, did not used to be cynical about politics now are. Worse still, people are not just indifferent to politics, they are ignorant about it: the level of hostility to intellectualism in this country is deeply depressing.

The BNP is a different animal to Ukip. Ukip can at least make a defensible democratic case for itself; we were promised a referendum on Europe and we haven’t been given one – almost certainly because it would be lost. There is something far more sinister about the BNP because it is an overtly racist party. This is a problem because liberal democracies are not good at dealing with extremism.

Somehow we need to find a way of exposing the BNP, while stopping it from manipulating the system to its advantage. It would help here if politicians from the main parties were more honest and treated the electorate like adults. It is clear from the budget forecasts that the country is basically bust, yet the Labour party carries on its “yah boo” politics of claiming it is not going to cut any public services while the Conservatives have fudged the whole issue on what they intend to do. Both stances are patronising and unsustainable. The public knows the country is bust and there are hard choices to make: it’s time the main parties allowed us to join in a grown-up debate about them.

Norman Davies

Supernumerary fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford, and fellow of the British Academy

Any comparisons with 1920s Germany are completely overstated. Fascism grew out of the crushing military defeat in which millions of Germans were killed and the moral humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles which held that Germany alone was responsible for the first world war. This was tantamount to saying that German families, who had done exactly the same as the British and Americans in sending their conscripted sons to fight, had killed their own children and was the catalyst for anti-Jewish conspiracy theories and the emergence of a far-right nationalist movement. Economic depression on its own would not have allowed fascism to flourish.

That does not mean we should be relaxed about the rise of the BNP. While Ukip thrives on the notion that the EU is the new Third Reich, the BNP is much more Anglo-centric; it wants to reclaim an imagined Albion dominated by white nationals. It is a party that is actually misnamed, for its essence is the English National party and, with the collapse of the Labour vote in Scotland giving the SNP an overwhelming majority, the break-up of the United Kingdom must be a possibility.

The BNP also has more natural allies among the far right in Europe – the Dutch Freedom party and the French National Front in particular – than Ukip. However, it is worth remembering that the one thing on which you can rely is that far-right parties will fall out with each other, so they are unlikely to form a mass European movement.

What we do need to be concerned about is David Cameron’s current flirtation with the Polish rightwing Law and Justice party, led by Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski. Up until now the British media has been giving the Kaczynski brothers far too easy a time. The brothers, totally lacking in ideology, are falling over themselves with joy at being courted by the Conservatives. They are manipulative politicians with no scruples. In the past they have boycotted state TV, restricting their appearances to Radju Marija – the station belonging to an extreme Catholic nationalist group – and have repeatedly tried to smear centrist politicians and have even claimed that Lech Walesa was a Soviet agent. It’s too simplistic to call them merely far-right – homophobia and anti-Semitism aren’t nearly as much of a problem in Poland as is often claimed – but they do hold the communist-era assumption that Germany is plotting to take over Poland again. Fundamentally, they are anti-liberal and determined to do down democracy. Cameron will definitely come off badly if he gets too close to them.

David Stevenson

Professor of international history at the LSE; author of The Penguin History of the First World war

The election of two BNP MEPs is a very depressing development. But in some ways the surprising thing is that their support hasn’t gone up more. The recession, the influx of immigration and the fact that all the mainstream parties are tarred with the same brush in the expenses scandal should work in their favour.

The parallel I would make is not with the rise of fascism in the 1930s but with the success of Jean-Marie Le Pen in France in the 1980s. He made his breakthrough in areas where the French communist party had been strong. As the communists collapsed, Le Pen’s Front National came in and took over. Now, in the UK, a portion of the vote that traditionally went to the Labour party has gone to the BNP. When Nick Griffin talks about the country being full and immigrants taking British jobs, he strikes a chord.

The BNP is different in style and structure from fascism in the 1930s. Clad in uniforms, fascists then organised themselves in paramilitary groups; they marched and engaged in street fighting. Far-right parties still have their bully boys, but there are fewer of them, though the danger is that they will multiply.

Even more worrying, though, is what will happen in other parts of Europe. The far right did badly in France and Germany, but areas of concern are Hungary and the Baltic states. Then there is the whole question of Italy. Berlusconi has strengthened his support and is a threat to civil liberties. He controls the media, and the left are weak and powerless against him. He is not far-right in the sense that Hitler was far-right, but he is a threat to democracy. Italy has become a western-European equivalent of the sort of guided democracy you get in Russia.

There are many worrying developments across Europe, and a number of different phenomena we need to be aware of. It is wrong to expect that an economic depression will help the left. It didn’t in the 1930s, nor in the 1870s and 80s, when the radical, populist right was born. It seems that in periods of economic uncertainty, people look to authoritarianism rather than democracy.