gay war hero memory at code red


[ An earlier version of this article, ‘Code red for WWII code breaker’ appeared in the May-June 2012 issue of The Western Independent ]

Alan Turing, WWII codebreaker.

Away from the fierce naval gun battles and front lines of History’s deadliest conflict, a quiet math genius was busy calculating sums that would save millions of lives.

Australia is missing among World War II allied countries marking the 100-year anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing. The British code-breaker used mathematical logic to decipher the wartime German ‘Enigma’ device. Nazi generals used the random code machine, thought to be ‘unbreakable’, to send secret battle plans.

Historian Ian Watson, author of The Universal Machine, says Turing’s contribution was central to the Allies’ success, saving potentially millions of lives during WWII.

“Turing devised the technique for automating the cracking of the naval Enigma code,” Dr Watson says.

“Historians generally agree the code breaking work shortened WWII by up to 2 years.”

Watson, ‘The Universal Machine’

These simulations also enabled Turing’s contribution to the first modern-day computer.

“The requirements for handling massive  amounts of data quickly meant it became obvious the process needed to be mechanised,

“If the war hadn’t forced these requirements then I think the development of the computer, both in the US and the UK would have been much slower.”

University of Wollongong digital communications lecturer Teodor Mitew says Turing’s genius lay in simulating all the mathematical possibilities of the Enigma device. The intelligence proved decisive to the Allied forces in crucial naval battles.

“His contributions are incalculable, yet he remains a largely unknown figure in Australia,” he says.

The Turing Centenary Advisory Report lists WWII allies Canada, France, Britain, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and The United States among 13 nations to host commemorative events this year marking the centenary of Turing’s birth. No Australian events have been listed however.

“The reason Turing has not been commemorated in this country has been his relative obscurity and the secret nature of his contributions,” Dr Mitew says.

“Put simply, these don’t fit the heroic war narrative our general public has been fed.”

Earlier this year, British newspaper The Guardian reported on a petition signed by 21,000 British citizens urging their government to posthumously pardon Turing’s criminal record for homosexual activity recorded shortly after his war service. The petition was unsuccessful, but the centenary has brought renewed efforts to obtain the necessary 100,000 signatures to force a vote in parliament. As of this writing, 35,000 citizens have signed. Moves have also been underway to feature Turing on the £10 note.

Various biographical accounts detail Turing being forced to undertake ‘chemical castration’ for his homosexuality under threat of a  prison sentence. In 1952, he was removed from his official position. He died two years later, aged 41, in circumstances ruled as suicide.

Dr Mitew says it is “just not enough” that Australians have forgotten about Turing’s life-saving work.

“You have this intellectual giant, with contributions ranging from philosophy through mathematics [to] computer science, and biology,” he says.

“Due to political and historical reasons he has been pushed into complete obscurity.”

Dr Watson says Australians, many of whose lives Turing helped save, should honour his services to the Allied war effort and urge the British government to pardon Turing’s criminal conviction.

“The law under which he was convicted was unjust and I think society would send a clear message by pardoning him – Thanks, you deserved to be treated better.” ♦

[ Photos courtesy Dr Ian Watson. Excerpts from Turing’s Computing and Machine Intelligence previously featured in imodernreview article ‘a new turing test’ ]


sharia’s challenge to Australian equality


A recent case before the ACT Supreme Court has again drawn attention to the treatment of women in Sharia law, renewing calls among rights activists against its acceptance within Australia’s legal system.

In March, the daughter of Ms Mariem Omari, a devout Muslim, contested an inheritance worth only half of the financial share given to each of her brothers.

Australian Federation of Islamic Councils president Hafez Kaseem, through his spokesman Mr Keysar Trad, said the division of assets in favour of males, like the Omari case, reflected Muslim men’s responsibility under Sharia to support their wives.

AFIC called for provisions of the Islamic code to be formally included into family law, part of its submission last year to a Federal Government inquiry into multiculturalism.

Mr Trad said secular law failed to reflect their faith and urged inclusion of Sharia law for Muslims where it applies to marriage, divorce, contracts and custody in Australia.

“We should be allowed to resolve our issues in-house,” Mr Trad said.

“We’re a well-established religion and all we’re asking for is to be a self-regulatory mechanism.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali addresses the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, April 2012. Photo courtesy of Bruce Woolley

Ex-Muslim, author and women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, visiting Australia in April, has warned against any government recognition of Sharia, and said women’s unequal legal protection also placed them in extreme danger.

A statement by the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation said Sharia encouraged forced marriage because contracts were signed between a groom and a bride’s father and granted child custody to the father in all divorce cases.

Last year, The Australian reported four separate cases of forced marriage that reached the Family Court involving immigrant families. One case involved a girl bride just 13 years of age.

Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon responded in recent months by introducing criminal punishments for those forcing women into arranged marriages.

Sharia laws have widespread informal use within Muslim communities, but Mr Trad acknowledged tight-knit faith communities exerted pressure on disputing parties – especially married parties – to consent to Sharia mediation, rather than to settle disputes in Australian courts.

“You’d expect both to consent,” he said.

“If a contract is by both, an obligation is to both, and a marriage is a solemn contract to satisfy the will of God.

“Secular law encroaches on all of that.”

Mr Trad denied suggestions Sharia law, that stated evidence given to a court by a woman was worth half of a man’s, meant unequal legal protection.

“In any money dispute, it’s expected as written in the Koran, for evidence to be given by two women for every one man,” he said.

“This is physiological.

“Women have pains and mood swings as a result of their menstrual cycle and can’t be expected the burden of clear heads on financial matters.”

He said fathers should also receive custody of children in most divorce cases.

“Mothers should not be placed in the position of supporting children and having a career.”

Director for the Centre for Muslim States and Societies Samina Yasmeen said both Muslims and non-Muslims were confused by cultural practices claimed to be part of its laws.

Open-minded Muslims feared to speak against Sharia’s more ‘orthodox’ interpretations, Professor Yasmeen said.

“There’s too much focus on imams as a main source of identity for Muslims in Australia.”

Sharia could be interpreted with equal respect for human rights, she said, but framing its codes into Australian law would only enforce its literal, more rigid meanings.

Professor Yasmeen said AFIC’s proposals to the Federal government inquiry represented a narrow interpretation of Sharia, but that most Muslim Australians also held a literal view of its codes.

“Muslim organisations in Australia are not unanimous, but if brought into the Australian legal system it will go to the extreme, enforcing patriarchal practices with a religious colour.

“If people knowingly move to a secular country, they should live within it. If we make too many concessions, we are in danger of losing the secular freedom of the law.” ♦