by Elias Ghazal
After a year of fruitless negotiations, empty promises, and shady contracts, the garbage crisis is back in Lebanon! Piles of toxic waste have lined streets of towns and villages, emitting harmful gases, contaminating underground water streams, and causing an environmental disaster at a national level. The solution to this problem is not unknown. In fact, multiple eco-friendly solutions have been proposed and discussed by environmental experts in the field. Yet, one year later and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on makeshift solutions, we are back where we started, and perhaps in a worse situation, now that we have additional tons of untreated waste.
Just as the solution to the garbage crisis in Lebanon is not unknown, the reason behind the failed solution is not that mysterious either. Quite simply, political elites in Lebanon have not agreed on how to split profits from a permanent national solution. From their lofty dwellings, they blame each other with theft, corruption, greed, and sectarianism, while the public suffers from diseases, humiliation and most importantly, despair.
Sadly, the garbage crisis in Lebanon comes as no surprise to many people who are familiar with the political system in the country. Decades of government corruption, flagrant embezzlement, and artificial accountability have challenged state order and disfigured what is normal. When resisted, rogue leaders fight for their seats of power through a mix of coercion and clientelism. Ultimately, countless law-abiding citizens have lost their possessions, rights, and dignity to the rapacious desires of government officials and feudal lords.
The situation in Lebanon, although unique in many ways, is not a special case. Corruption and violence run rampant throughout the Middle East and many countries around the world. Consider the state of war and chaos that is ravishing Syria, Iraq, Libya, Gaza, Sudan and Yemen. Remember the political dissent brought about by the people of Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia, and Turkey, which was met with indiscriminate imprisonment and brutality. Listen to the news reports on another terrorist bombing killing innocent people and leaving states fumbling to control the situation, by any means necessary.
The truth is, there is suffering and injustice all over the world, but people tend to focus on suffering closest to them. Still, tolerating an unfair situation is no easy task. Just because people around the world are regularly cheated, oppressed, and disfranchised, does not make it right or acceptable. At the heart of the matter, there are deep roots of injustice, where vicious people abuse their power to subjugate others for their own benefit. The cost of injustice is very high: poverty, terrorism, crime, war and all the ills of society.
The pressing question is: when will it all end? When will injustice end? When will the wicked get what they deserve? When will the greedy mouth be shut? When will the ruthless be disempowered? When will people be able to lead an honest life without looking for backdoor alternatives? When will citizens of the Middle East live free from corruption and extortion? When will citizens of the world live without fear of violence and terrorism? When will it all end? When will injustice end?
The Psalmist asked the same question when he observed how the wicked brag and boast about their crimes. He saw them exploit hardworking people and abuse the helpless and the needy. He was outraged by their audacity and careless spirit. As if he’s living in the contemporary Middle East, and experiencing the anguish of its citizens, he looks upward and cries out to God in anger:
How long shall the wicked, O Lord, how long shall the wicked exult? (Psalm 94:3 NASB).
People have been suffering at the hands of corrupt and unprincipled leaders for centuries, and the Psalmist is no exception. However, what is striking about the psalmist is his response to the situation around him. At the end of his song, he reminds himself that:
The wicked band together against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death. But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge. He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the Lord our God will destroy them.”
Instead of seeking an answer [from God] to “when will it all end?” he finds himself answering a more critical question: “how will it all end?” He recollects that God is powerful and just. God will ultimately bring an end to violence and corruption, and he will reinstitute justice.
This shift in focus – from “when” to “how will it all end” – removes the skepticism that usually accompanies peacebuilding efforts. Followers of Christ are called to speak against injustice and expose corruption, but because that task can be so daunting, it tends to dispirit peace workers and stifle reconciliation initiatives. However, armed with the understanding that God, who is the ultimate judge of the universe, will repay the wicked for their sins and restore justice makes promoting peace and standing up against injustice a costly enterprise, but one with guaranteed results.
Corruption is part of human reality, not least in the Middle East. Accepting that does not mean accepting the current situation as permanent or unchangeable. God is always at work to make himself known in the world. He calls people to exhibit his goodness and bring about his justice. In a fallen world, that often comes at a high price, but that should not be a deterrent. On the contrary, to know that God is working towards restoring justice, and we are on his side, relieves lovers of peace and justice from using illicit or violent ways to do that.