Law Reform

Too late to apologise

To be honest, I don’t really see the point of these symbolic gestures in which people who aren’t guilty of perpetrating an injustice apologise to people who weren’t victims of it. So I shan’t be apologising at any point for slavery. I have never owned slaves, wanted to own slaves, or had the opportunity to own slaves. What’s more, I have never met a slave, and since slavery was abolished before my great-grandfather was born, I am unlikely ever to meet one. There may be, granted, some very old people alive today who may have been a child or grandchild of a freed American slave, but the point is that any apology would be a hollow gesture. What’s more, it would be a racist gesture.

It would be racist because it works on the assumption that one group of people are – whether directly or ceremonially is irrelevant – responsible for the actions of their forebears and that the distant progeny of those who have been wronged are, regardless of their own circumstances, capable and willing to serve as a proxy for the wronged and injured, rendering both groups eternal monsters and victims respectively. This is done solely on the basis of a sharing racial and cultural characteristics with the original people involved.

Similarly, I think it would be just as ridiculous for a person born in Berlin today to grow up thinking they ought to apologise to someone born in Tel Aviv in the same hour.

And it is for this reason that, unless someone can convince me otherwise, I shan’t be signing a new petition to urge the government to apologise to the late gay mathematician Alan Turing for his prosecution for homosexuality.

That is not to say it wasn’t a terrible, tragic and unjust case. Turing was chemically castrated and the humiliation caused him to commit suicide in 1954. I’m sure most people know that Turing was responsible for cracking the Nazi’s ‘Enigma’ code which saved many thousands of lives and helped the Allies win the war. He is also considered the father of modern computing. In short a genius, but sacrificed to bigotry and stupidity.

But what is the point of this government – which holds none of the attitudes of the government that persecuted gay men more than half a century ago – apologising to a dead man?

Were the government willing and able to (posthumously) pardon Turing as well as the scores of other gay men unjustly convicted of ‘homosexuality’ – many of whom are still alive – then that is a call I could get behind. Indeed, when a law is recognised as unjust, those convicted under it ought to pardoned and their names cleared.

If that were a principle of British Justice, we’d have real progress.