Castro and the Pope agree on one thing - down with America!

the clash of icons

Share
Related Topics
An icon is someone you can recognise from behind. William Hague and Kate Winslet, for example, are not icons; Margaret Thatcher and John Wayne certainly were. And two of the greatest extant icons came together this week on a warm, beautiful island in the Caribbean.

No, not Mick Jagger and Tina Turner on Mustique. Two great hero/villains of the second half of this century, celebrated their likely survival into the early years of the next, by meeting up, kissing each other and hanging out. The Pope and Fidel (having outlived Leonid, Margaret, Josip Broz, Kim Il Sung and Jimmy Stewart) were celebrating their own remarkable longevity. To see them together was to go on icon overload, like looking at old photographs of Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt at the Yalta conference, or a enjoying a dream of Diana having dinner with Marilyn in heaven.

For one moment I had a fantasy of them swapping their iconic togs, like footballers exchange shirts at the end of a big match. Fidel would clamber into a cassock, hang the crucifix round his neck and don the skullcap. John Paul II, in turn, would fasten those fatigues, pull up the combat boots and firmly clamp a huge Havana between his dentures. Disappointingly, only one wore the full iconic regalia: the Pope turned out in snow-white Popegear, but Castro wore a dark suit. This made him look attractively winsome, as though he were a young suitor visiting his girlfriend's parents one Sunday lunchtime.

So, there they were, these two redoubtable men, icons grown old. One once represented the vigour, sexiness and hope of socialist revolution; the other the much longer tradition of the one true church. What was it that drew them together, that made their sharing of one spotlight so surprisingly comfortable?

There is, after all, one pretty bone of contention between them - God. Fidel does not believe in him, and the Pope does. And, insofar as communism has traditionally been associated with godlessness, one would expect the Cuban regime to be exactly the type of government here on earth that the Pontiff would most like to dislodge. Especially as he has been accorded a similar accolade with regard to the fall of the Berlin wall to that which The Sun allowed itself after the 1992 election - it was the Pope wot won it.

It should not have been a surprise, therefore, to see the American magazine Time comment in its latest issue that "this week the Pope brings his message of freedom to Fidel Castro, as two of the world's giants collide". According to this version of the iconoclash, Fidel is tolerating the Pope because he is desperate for recognition, and the Holy Father is there to wean weary Cubans away from communism.

This is old-fashioned, America-centric, Cold War bollocks. The idea that the Pope has a "message of freedom" is in any case bizarre. Catholicism is not about freedom, which it does not recognise as essential for the human condition. Dignity, yes. Freedom, no. The Holy Office of the Inquisition - renamed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - still exists today; and you can still be branded a heretic in today's church. Old Galileo was only rehabilitated in 1992, some 360 years after having been condemned; Gorbachev managed to get Bukharin rehabilitated inside 50.

But even the fact that both Cuba and the church aren't democratic isn't really the point. The fact is that, these days, there is more that can unite men like Castro and Wojtila than must necessarily divide them. For a start, they are not as hostile to each other as an American perspective might assume. Fidel has drunk at the well of liberation theology; there are plenty of Catholics that he likes and would call comrade. His enemies are those forces that would crush him and - in his terms - destroy his country. Catholicism is not one of those forces.

Now look at the world from under the skullcap. communism, once the terrible secular threat to organised religion, is everywhere vanquished. From Italy to Argentina, from Canada to Kamchatka, there are no communists. Across the world the market reigns. So the Pope's enemy is no longer organised labour, marching to the drumbeat of a single ideology, defeated if that one ideology is defeated. In 1998 it is the far more powerful, less ideological and therefore less confrontable global system of capitalism which provides the church with its challenge.

In its global phase capitalism is raising as many ethical and spiritual questions, as it answers material ones. Across the developed world many are richer, but most are, they say, no happier. In a flicker of a computer screen whole communities are swept away, employers feel no responsibility for their employees, employees feel no loyalty to their companies. Fidel and John Paul may look at Russia, and see communism replaced with prostitution, exploitation, rampant crime and all the other ugly stepsisters of consumerism. And both do not like what they see. This is something that Americans cannot understand.

So, these two last doddering representatives of two great ideologies, both of which contend that there is something above us, whether it be the possibility of a heaven on earth, or the certainty of a heaven in heaven, can find both common cause and sense some opportunity. Both members of a priestly caste, set to show us the path to enlightenment, they appeal, in their different ways, to deeper human values. They can make us good human beings. Anything you can do, they are saying, icon do better.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in August  

Ferguson: The sad truth is that Michael Brown was killed because he was a black man

Bonnie Greer
A protestor poses for a  

Ferguson verdict: This isn't a 'tragedy'. This is part of a long-running genocide of black men in America

Otamere Guobadia
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital