As I Please

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Metaphorically Speaking

Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, has described his country as a "surgeon" in dealing with the problem of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Considering what his country's military forces, especially air force, have been doing in that country, I wondered what kind of surgery he had in mind. Then an example occurred to me as particularly appropriate considering Israel's actions. Taken from Richard Zacks's An Underground Education (pp. 179-80), it is an eyewitness account by a 12th-century Arab physician "called in to consult with a European colleague":
They took me to see a knight who had an abscess on his leg, and a woman with consumption. I applied a poultice to the leg and the abscess opened and began to heal. I prescribed a cleansing and refreshing diet for the woman. Then there appeared a Frankish (European) doctor, who said: "This man has no idea how to cure these people!" He turned to the knight and said: "Which would you prefer, to live with one leg or to die with two?" When the knight replied that he would prefer to live with one leg, he sent for a strong man and a sharp axe. They arrived and I stood by to watch. The doctor supported the leg on a block of wood, and said to the man: "Strike a mighty blow and cut it cleanly!" And there, before my eyes the fellow struck the knight one blow, and then another for the first had not done the job. The marrow spurted out of the leg, and the patient died instantaneously. Then the doctor examined the woman and said: "She has a devil in her head who is in love with her. Cut her hair off!" This was done, and she went back to eating her usual Frankish food, garlic and mustard which made her illness worse. "The devil has got into her brain," pronounced the doctor. He took a razor and cut a cross on her head, and removed the brain so that the inside of her skull was laid bare. This he rubbed with salt; the woman died instantly. At this juncture, I asked whether they had any further need of me, and as they had none I came away, having learnt things about medical methods that I never knew before.
The medical methods described above were part of a system that came to be called "Heroic medicine". Its techniques were rooted in the assumption that the way to rid one set of afflictions from a patient's body was to subject it to a considerably more violent set of afflictions, the "heroic" aspect being up to the patient, as it was hoped he or she would rally after the treatment.
Aside from the surgery described, it seems to me that we can find other metaphors in the report, bearing in mind that allegorical interpretation can be applied to anything and can be used to yield virtually any result (which is why it was finally abandoned as a tool of biblical exegesis). The patients of course stand for the government and innocent civilians of Lebanon. While the eyewitness is an Arab, he can be said to represent those, Arab or otherwise, who have advocated a non-violent approach in dealing with Hezbollah in Lebanon, though unable like the Arab doctor to prevent or stop the mayhem that, not inevitably, resulted. The Frankish doctor and his assistant can be read as a double metaphor, standing not only for the Israeli government and military but also for those such as the Bush administration, our own federal government, and all others who support Israeli actions in Lebanon as a "measured" response to Hezbollah's provocations. One more metaphor is worth conceiving. If the patients are a metaphor for Lebanon, then the "devil" declared to be in the tubercular woman's head can be said to be, appropriately, a symbol for the supposed global terrorist network, of which Hezbollah is a member (or is it?). As representing supporters of Israel's actions the Frankish doctor actually believes that there is a devil, while as standing for the Israeli government and military he only says that there is one, so as to persuade others that the extreme actions taken are justified. If anyone thinks my analysis is excessive consider what this ex-Israeli soldier has to say on the issue.


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