The Show is Over, ..but the malady lingers on
HAVING a sprained ankle is a nuisance at the best of times, but I was particularly annoyed this weekend of the Pope's visit to find myself barely able to make it up the High Street for provisions. No, I was not going to join the throng out cheering his Holiness, not even for the chance of laying of hands (would prefer a physio, if I could find one).
It's bad enough this government, which wants to plunder the poor to profit its rich pals, should consider it worth the massive cost of a state visit to get the Church onside. Plus the BBC felt entitled to deprive me of some favourite programmes to extend its fawning coverage.
While the pontiff was blaming militant atheists "making war on God" for the horrors of the 20th century (odd that his predecessors made concordats with them, refusing pleas from Basque priests to condemn the bombing of Guernica, for example), he also seems to have persuaded otherwise sane and progressive friends of mine that after centuries of conquering and persecuting others, it is the Catholic Church that is the victim. Two brothers I know, neither of them Catholic, have been openly rowing with each other on either side, after one of them went on the march against the visit.
I would not have gone on that march even if fit, partly because I distrust or even reject some of the arguments I have heard. Is it really right to dub someone a "Nazi" just because he is German and joined the Hitler Youth during the Third Reich's power? One person even described him as a "friend of Hitler", surely a description more appropriate for those members of the British aristocracy and even Royals who actually met the Fuhrer? Not to mention press barons who thought he was doing a grand job.
This isn't to deny that Pope Benedict is a reactionary who has offended other faiths, or absolve him from criticism over issues like opposing birth control or shielding child abuse. But these issues are being taken up by Catholics and former Catholics who know what they are talking about, and those of us from different religious backgrounds can only wish them well, while focussing on our own problems. Interfering in someone else's house only confuses issues and does not help matters.
Besides, I got that feeling that by joining the anti-Pope protest, almost as much as by joining the adulation, I would be playing a minor role in something like a piece of street theatre, which someone unknown had scripted (forgive my paranoia) and if nothing else, a diversion from the really important struggles coming up in Europe and in Britain. On September 29, trade unionists in several European countries will go on strike, with a major demonstration planned in Brussels, against the attempt to impose the bankers' crisis on working people and take away hard-won rights and conditions. How many people here know about this, or have talked about it?
So I would have preferred to take a stand this weekend and made clear why I wasn't going on the march, rather than have the excuse of a wonky ankle! And I do wish some of my Facebook friends had found something else rather than the Pope and Catholicism to discuss this weekend! (Some did - thus I hear that the BNP were chased away after setting up their stall on Buchanan Street in Glasgow, and that a demonstration against the Con-Dem coalition and its cuts was kept away from the Lib Dems conference in Liverpool. Good to see not everyone had forgotten the issues.)
But if there was room for debate about the significance of the Pope's visit, some of the media were in no doubt about the importance of the sub-plot - or 'bomb plot' -provided by police and security services.
It was reported that six men " of North African origin", employed as street cleaners, had been arrested on the basis of overheard remarks which suggested they might be plotting to assassinate the Pope. On TV we saw checks being made along the Popemobile's route for explosive devices. Checks that would probably have been routinely carried out anyway.
If the police had very little to go on, the Daily Express had little doubt. 'Muslim Plot to Kill Pope'," was its headline om Saturday. The arrested men were described as "Islamic terrorists disguised as street cleaners" and readers were told that "the threatened attack was foiled at the 11th hour after police raided a cleaning depot in London".
The Express claimed that it was "feared plotters with links to Al Qaeda planned 'a double blow to the infidel' by assassinating the head of the Roman Catholic church and slaughtering hundreds of pilgrims and well-wishers" .
As if that wasn't enough to get Express readers all worked up, the paper brought in one of its long-running obsessions: "An investigation is also under way to determine if the foreign nationals had entered Britain legally and were entitled to work here."
Well, the "bogus street cleaners", as the Express headline called them were so cunningly "disguised" as to be employed by Veolia, the ubiquitous French utilities firm (also controversially involved in the Israeli-occupied West Bank), on street cleaning for the Tory-controlled City of Westminster. That's why the police could raid a street cleaning depot for them.
I know nothing about their background or legal status, and neither I suspect does the Daily Express. One of the men was reported to be Algerian But apart from North Africans who settled in France and became French, and therefore EU citizens, entitled to travel, Westminster is home to a number of Moroccan-born workers who were initially employed in Gibraltar to replace Spanish workers, and thereby obtained the right to come to Britain.
But that is all by the way.
The point is that no explosives were found, and no evidence either that the six men were linked with any plot, or were other than honest workers trying to earn a living while cleaning the capital's mucky litter-strewn streets.
All six have been released without any charges.
As Monday's Express online site notes "The BBC quoted Scotland Yard sources saying that the men posed no credible threat, while the Sunday Mirror said the men had simply been overheard sharing a joke in their canteen".
I wonder how much of an apology will be forthcoming to these innocent men from a newspaper which effectively found them guilty without evidence, before they had even been charged?
And more sadly, how many tabloid readers will register the fact that the men were freed, without any charges, as opposed to remembering that a group of Muslim "terrorists" were caught supposedly plotting to blow up the Pope and hundreds of innocent people in London. And thus myths are made. And the malady of fear and hatred lingers on.