The Beirut explosion happened two days before- a shipload of ammonium nitrate en route in 2013 from Georgia for fertilizer in Mozambique, and abandoned after the Russian cargo ship developed mechanical problems near Cyprus, appears to have been triggered by a nearby fire. If stored for long periods ammonium nitrate solidifies and becomes dangerous. Poor safety records are also not unknown in the UK (for example in the Grenfell Tower cladding fire). Beirut once prospered as a port and trading centre for the region. But when Lebanon was carved out of Greater Syria in 1926 by the French League of Nations Mandate (following the collapse of the Ottoman Turkish Empire in WW1), it was cut off from its hinterland, and has become over-dependent on foreign investment (including from Lebanese people living abroad). In recent years a collapse in confidence and in money coming in has created serious poverty and inequality. The 1926 Constitution, which gave Maronite Christians a predominant voice in the country, led to a civil war from 1975 to 1990, and the settlement which ended that war, while it created a fairer balance between different groups in the country, also made it more difficult for the government to take decisive action, which perhaps contributed to the neglect of the stored ammonium nitrate, though there have been allegations (also strongly denied) that it was in the interests of some groups to maintain it there.
We also discussed the Palestinian situation, in the light of the Israeli proposals for further annexations (supported by President Trump), and we referred to the visits by members of the Education Union in Northants to Jerusalem. (Since then the annexation proposals appear to have been temporarily shelved in an agreement with the United Arab Emirates).
And the Black Lives Matter campaign, joined by many young people, despite Covid. We questioned the level of anger being shown at times, but remembered Ephesians 4:26 “Be angry but do not sin”- anger is a wholly appropriate response to gross injustice (for example in the Windrush deportations and many of the nearby Yarls Wood Immigration Removal Centre cases). The question should be how anger can become creative, and how action over racial justice, without it any way being diluted, can be linked with other cases of injustice in society (for example, working-class communities who have felt excluded by the ways the economy has developed in recent years). Many schools now incorporate Black History into their curriculum. Some predominantly white areas are still not facing the issue, but it is vital that they should, because their opinions influence political decision-making in the UK, and so can either reinforce injustice or bring it to an end.
Our reading was from 1 John chapter 3, reminding us that we are to love, not only in word, but in action (verse 18). In all these cases- Beirut, Palestine, Black Lives Matter, it is not enough to discuss and analyse the causes, but to take whatever action is possible to relieve immediate suffering and to eradicate the causes.