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Evil in Beirut

14 August 2020

THE Prime Minister of Lebanon, Hassan Diab, spoke candidly in his resignation speech on Monday night. Daily protests since the port area of Beirut was devastated in a blast a week earlier had given him and his ministers no choice but to quit — although, in doing so, he appeared to wish to avoid blame rather than accept it. In a television broadcast, he recalled the hope, albeit faint, that had accompanied his appointment less than a year ago. “I said that corruption is rooted in every part of the state. But I found out that corruption is greater than the state.”

Evangelists often struggle to communicate the problem of evil to a comfortable population. Indeed, some try too hard, losing their audience during the spiel about sin and before they get to the part about salvation and grace. People generally grasp individual sin, either in themselves or, if not self-aware enough, in others. They find it harder to grasp a more general sense of how evil is manifested. Having it personified as the work of the devil seldom helps, inviting people down a dualistic path.

The example of Lebanon is thus a useful lesson. Mr Diab spoke of corruption as if it were a discrete entity, something beyond the power of his government to combat. The whole can be broken down into its constituent parts, however, which is the thousands of individual acts of venality which, together, threaten the people of Lebanon quite as much as a warehouse full of ammonium nitrate. The global Corruption Index run by Transparency International reports that, in the past year, 41 per cent of Lebanese people had paid a bribe to a public official. It is possible that, as in the UK, the payment of a bribe is a criminal offence; but if you want your gas connected, or your rent reviewed, there is currently no alternative. Presiding over this legal and moral failure are the heads of the various sects who have decided that, for now, siphoning money out of the country is more profitable than fighting over its control. There is thus an element of corrupted religion to add to the mix.

There is a glimmer of hope. The Beirut explosion, for all its destructive power, has galvanised the city’s population to engage in a great work of neighbourliness, organising food and shelter for one another. And, since there is nothing transactional about gifts given freely, there is nowhere for corruption to take hold. The speed at which charities and NGOs can feed money directly to these ad hoc people’s organisations is another force for good. The challenge comes with the need to scale up this sort of assistance to the level required to rebuild the dock area and start supplying the country’s needs once again. The prayer must be that the world does not provide another example of corporate evil: that of indifference and inaction when human need has been so clearly demonstrated.

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