Sunday, 25 June 2017

Be anxiously concerned…

On 14th June, 2017, a fridge-freezer caught fire in Grenfell Tower, a block of 127 flats in Kensington, in London. The appliance was next to the window, and flames got out onto the cladding on the outside of the building, and rapidly took hold of most of the building. Sadly, it seems likely that 79 people died as a result. The course of the fire, in spreading to the whole block, has not yet been fully investigated, but it is now clear that the cladding and insulation which had been added to the outside of the block were flammable, and it seems that the building and safety regulations may have been inadequate. Much criticism has been levelled at the local government body which owns the tower, and at successive national governments, which hold responsibility for building and safety regulations.

Government and administration are weighty and complex matters. However, from a Bahá’í perspective, certain principles are clear. Firstly, Bahá’u’lláh made plain that government (at all levels) is an active, and indeed pro-active, process. He said that “Governments should fully acquaint themselves with the conditions of those they govern”, but it is reported that the complaints of the tenants to the management company about several aspects of the building seem to have been completely ignored over a number of years, and that local government did not take it upon themselves to investigate.

Bahá’u’lláh also advises us to, “Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.” The type of cladding used on Grenfell Tower would simply have been illegal in many countries, which suggests that all governments should have been actively investigating whether such a ban should have been applied in their own territories. Other conditions which should have been subject to legislation would include the number of staircases in a building. Grenfell Tower, like many others, had just one staircase. Only one exit, for around 600 people, seems unwise when not just fire but terrorist attack or other awful incidents can be imagined.

Much has been made of the inordinate disparity between the very wealthy and the remarkably poor social groups living side by side in this part of London. Bahá’u’lláh’s Son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, predicted change: "The time will come in the near future when humanity will become so much more sensitive than at present that the man of great wealth will not enjoy his luxury, in comparison with the deplorable poverty about him. He will be forced, for his own happiness, to expend his wealth to procure better conditions for the community in which he lives." Across the world, we have seen some early glimpses of this starting to happen.

Bahá’u’lláh suggested laws limiting the extremes of wealth and poverty, (see my April 2016 blog, “There is a better way”) and stressed that we are all essentially one. After all, it seems clear that all human beings have shared the same evolutionary past, over several million years: “O Thou kind Lord! Thou hast created all humanity from the same stock. Thou hast decreed that all shall belong to the same household…”. However, at the time when Bahá’u’lláh was writing, in the 1860s, those in power often felt themselves to be superior to the bulk of the population, leading Him to point out to them: “Your people are your treasures... By them ye rule, by their means ye subsist, by their aid ye conquer. Yet, how disdainfully ye look upon them! How strange, how very strange!” Although great progress has been made in leaving such attitudes behind, the modern world still has a long way to go before all mankind feels as if it belongs to one household. Those in a position of government, whether national or local, must “be anxiously concerned” about improving conditions for everyone.


The final quotation was from one of a series of letters which Bahá’u’lláh wrote to the rulers of the time. In January, 2017, I wrote a blog post about His letter to Queen Victoria, and gave the post the title "Representatives of all that dwell on earth".

In February, 2016, a tower block fell sideways in Taiwan following an earthquake, and it was found that illegal materials had been deliberately used in the construction of the building. My post at that time was called "You might cheat people, but you cannot cheat nature"