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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Symbolism and Role Reversal in Philistia

The use of allegory and metaphor in John Reinhard Dizon’s Philistia would be commonplace in a politically themed, religiously charged novella. Yet the use of symbolism and role reversal appear to challenge its audience, inviting readers past the curtain to inspect the dei ex machina that proliferate throughout the plot. Many of the characters act as Trojan horses, carrying inside them hosts of allegorical and metaphoric implications that are left for us to contend with long after the players have left the scene. What they represent and how they transcend their stereotypical natures are what makes this work unique.

The role of Sylvia Cantor as a liberated woman, Delilah Sorek as a femme fatale and Gwen Abbott as a damsel in distress are all too easy to categorize and dismiss. Yet their interactions leave far too many inconsistencies were we to reduce them to the lowest common denominator – gender stereotypes. Sylvia is portrayed as a forensics expert with an aptitude for problem solving which is referred to throughout the tale as female intuition. Hey partner, Gary Race, jokes that he is ‘paid to listen to her’. Though when we consider the history of Israel, we find that the inclusion of women in their military infrastructures has been a matter of national survival that contradicts its male-dominated social environment. Having Sylvia carry a gun and hold rank in Shin Bet is no different than seeing women holding rank in the Israel Defense Force. We see how their Egyptian counterpart scoffs at the agents for having a ‘saleswoman’ trying to sell her ‘story’ of Hamas using the underground pipeline into Egypt as a military diversion. This episode concludes as Sylvia turns her back on the Egyptians, who symbolize the dead end that Jamal Al-Ramadi intended them to be.

Delilah is introduced as the seductress who lures Samson from Israel into the ranks of Hamas. She also becomes a negotiator for Hamas in their dealings with the Jerusalem Mob. As the story progresses, we find that bringing Samson into Gaza is a gambit to keep him on the sidelines rather than putting him into play for the insurgents. We also see that the Jerusalem Mob is persuaded to participate in a multimillion-dollar black-marketing scheme that distracts both the IDF and the Egyptian Army from Jamal’s true objective. Delilah becomes a pawn in Jamal’s chess game, yet becomes a queen that proves catastrophic as the game concludes.

Gwen Abbott finds herself being used as a bargaining chip, first as a hostage held for ransom, then as collateral in Jamal’s exit strategy. As the story progresses, she becomes the mother of wisdom in revealing Biblical truths to both Samson and Delilah. It proves symbolic as the epiphany anticipates the birth of their newfound Christianity and the revelation of their mission in traveling through time. We also see how she is the focal point of her father Brooks’ life as a widow and a pastor sacrificing all else for his ministry. She appears to play the weakest role in the narrative. Yet if it were not for her bringing Samson and Delilah to the knowledge of truth, the protagonists would have remained ignorant of Jamal’s true plan to change the destiny of Israel.

The issues discussed in the storyline continue to escalate as we examine the dialogues on race and religion. We see stereotypes abounding as the narrative distinguishes between the ‘Israelites’, as Samson and Delilah refer to them, and the immigrant Russian Jews who are shown as the antagonists. Alternately, we see the ‘Philistines’ as the people of the ancient land as opposed to the Palestinians engaged in insurrectionism that threatens both Israeli and Egyptian alike. The conflict is presented in black and white as Hamas operates underground in darkness, digging tunnels to undermine their adversaries and constantly meeting in secret to set their plans into effect. The Israelis meet in their ivory towers to analyze their dilemmas and come up with comprehensive solutions to maintain stability, law and order. The American pastor stays at an exclusive hotel and comes out only to reclaim his daughter, never once stepping foot out of the armored military vehicle. By speed-reading our way through, it seems obvious that our ethnic groups have been typecast so as to provide us with a streamlined immersion into the political environment.

At second glance, we find that the Palestinians are the only ones who are examined from a human perspective. They are forced into communities that are bracketed by both the IDF and the Egyptian Army. Even Delilah remains in awe of how the tables have turned between the Israelites and the Philistines. There is a brief discussion of Egypt’s demolition of their cities along the Gaza border and how the tunnels are reduced to sewage dumps. It is an exquisitely ruthless tactic which would be condemned by the global community if practiced elsewhere (i.e. the US-Mexico border). Yet it is seen as a natural reaction by Egypt, which is already engaged in exterminating its own Muslim Brotherhood (purged after winning a national election). In this world of inconsistency and contradiction, Jamal is seen as the heroic figure and his brother Bassam as Delilah’s counterpart. Yet it is Jamal who conspires with the Islamic State to destroy the Temple on the Mount in an ultimate act of betrayal against the world Muslim community.

The religious overtones appear to be just as cut and dried at first glance. Samson and Delilah leap from the Book of Judges into modern-day Israel, where they are seen as victims of an American or Russian-Chinese mind control experiment. Yet references to the Tanakh demonstrate the Israelis’ familiarity with their own canon and respect for their ancient traditions and folklore. Their patriarchal society is hinted at, while the Muslim distinction between men and women is clearly defined. The Israelis’ sense of duty is underscored by their mission statement to defend the Holy Land at all costs. The Muslims seem to be motivated by cultural manifests that are reinforced by religious imperatives. Yet the Temple on the Mount symbolizes their mutual respect for each other’s beliefs and need for peaceful coexistence. It is threatened by the Islamic State, the antithesis of what Islam itself claims to represent. Jamal becomes its false prophet, and it takes a Judge of Israel to rise from oblivion to deliver his people anew.

  The theme of Americanism resonates throughout the novella as the US spy satellite Chernobyl acts as  the all-seeing eye of the all-knowing Almighty. The conspirators continue along their course nonetheless, defiant of the powers of justice to bring their misdeeds to an end. We can see the allegory as Delilah appears as a cajoling, demanding and impatient partner (Israel) trying to implore the sluggish giant Samson (America) into action. The American ‘princess’ Gwen becomes the deciding factor as Samson emerges from his lethargy in an act of divine intervention. He becomes a metaphor for the superpower coming to the aid of its ally, miraculously rescuing it from nuclear annihilation.  

In summation, we find that Philistia can be seen as a postmodernist parable of the 21st century, discussing current topics with what can be argued to be a satirical overtone. Yet the deeper meaning can be analyzed by examining the sum of its parts. By exploring the allegorical and metaphorical passages on race, religion, gender and politics, Philistia becomes an essential narrative from ancient history to the modern era.

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