Politics & Policy

There Is No God but Hephaestus

Palestinian protester in Hebron. (Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty)
And fire is his messenger.

A news photograph from Hazem Bader, who chronicles newsworthy doings in Israel for Agence France Presse, inspired a good deal of guilty giggles on Tuesday: A Palestinian thug mishandled his Molotov cocktail and managed to set fire to his T-shirt and then to his keffiyeh, which had his compatriots scrambling to put out the flames dancing on his head. That was not the sort of halo that the holy warrior had in mind at all — martyrdom, yes, inshallah, but not right now. Like all decent people of good will, my first reaction was: Serves you right, ass. And then a smidgen of guilt: If you’ve ever seen a human being burned, you don’t wish it on anybody. Not even these Jew-hating jihadi bums.

I myself have been closer than you’d generally like to be to that sort of fire on a few occasions: the automobile accidents and house fires that are part of the daily newspaper fare; the fiery climax of the Branch Davidian siege at Waco; a terrorist bombing of a train near New Delhi. Burning, it seems, is a very bad way to go.

But, as everybody from the Joker to Heraclitus to Father Gerard Manley Hopkins has observed: Everything burns.

I cannot help but seeing in the image of that hapless would-be Palestinian murderer a metaphor for the entirety of the Palestinian experience, and for the broader jihadist worldview.

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There is no Palestinian economy to speak of. Palestinians cannot easily export their main products, olives and olive oil, because the standard practices of the olive market require an eyeball inspection of products before purchase, and the world’s olive buyers cannot travel safely in the Palestinian-controlled territories, no more than a Jew can. Ironically, practically the only people on earth who will buy Palestinian olives and olive products in large quantities on reasonable commercial terms are Israelis. Most Palestinian olive exports take the form of “gifts” to family members and influential parties in the Arab world. To the extent that commercial exports to countries such as Canada are a going concern, Palestinian producers often are forced to trade on unfavorable terms — forced by Palestinian terrorists. Terrorism causes border lockdowns, border lockdowns interfere with production schedules, and inability to commit to firm delivery dates puts producers in a weak position.

It may be the case that lack of economic opportunity inspires Palestinian terrorism. It is certainly the case that Palestinian terrorism prevents the emergence of Palestinian prosperity.

#share#As that dopey Palestinian bomb-thrower found out, fire doesn’t care whom it burns. Everything burns, including your empty head. Fire is one of those basic, fundamental, elemental facts of life. So is poverty, which is the natural state of human beings. The connection is not lost on the poetically minded: We hear of burning hunger, of famine spreading like wildfire. There’s a deep connection there, somewhere, between fire and oil and hunger and plenty. We hear very old stories of a widow’s oil jar that kept pouring until all her debts were paid, of one day’s worth of oil that miraculously burned for eight days, illuminating a temple.

Hopkins, who was a Jesuit priest as well as a startlingly original poet, considered the philosophy of Heraclitus, “the weeping philosopher,” who saw all of nature as one great all-consuming fire, concluding that in the end men are nothing but fuel for it, the spark of their lives extinguished until, as Hopkins put it, “all is in an enormous dark.” For Hopkins, that was only part of the story, and not the most important part: His most famous poem is called “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection.” The Resurrection changes the math entirely. Perhaps it is the case that those jihadists really do believe in a kind of resurrection, those 72 virgins we’re always hearing about and all that rubbish. Perhaps, though, it is simply the case that they see nothing before them but the vasty deep, that “all is in an enormous dark,” that all those Hamas preachers are telling the truth when they proclaim: “You love life, but we love death.” Perhaps it isn’t that there is no god but Allah, that in reality there is no god but Hephaestus, god of fire, a god who insists that everything burns. But even Hephaestus had a job as a blacksmith.

RELATED: Israelis: ‘We Don’t Run’

Walking through Union Square, I was accosted by some of those clipboard-toting fanatics — clipboard-bearers are the enemies of humanity — who wanted me to sign a petition to boycott Israel. I told them that I’d be more inclined to boycott Palestinian products, and would do so just as soon as they had anything worth boycotting. In truth, nothing would make me happier than to see a bunch of refrigerators coming off of container ships in San Pedro stamped “made in palestine.” That would mean that there was peace.

Perhaps if there were more to love about their life, the Palestinians would see things differently. But they insist on lighting their own heads on fire.

Perhaps if there were more to love about their life, the Palestinians would see things differently. But they insist on lighting their own heads on fire. That fire doesn’t bake any bread or warm any houses; it only helps them to keep themselves poor, miserable, and vulnerable. They rally to the flags of leaders who keep them poor, miserable, and vulnerable. They embrace a philosophy of life that keeps them poor, miserable, and vulnerable. And their poverty, misery, and vulnerability are of great use to powerful men elsewhere in the Arab world, who have managed to reconcile Islam’s austerity with the billionaire lifestyle. The Palestinians can’t export their oil, but the Saudis can sure as Hell export theirs. Funny, that.

(Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty)

The Palestinians may have a little petroleum, but even if they hit a gusher in the West Bank, what would they do with it? Just as Palestinian olive producers are mainly consigned to the lower end of the value chain — growing olives rather than producing and exporting olive oil — the Iranians, who sit on vast quantities of crude, have to import 50,000 barrels a day of gasoline from refiners abroad, because the ayatollahs keep the Iranian economy so backward that it cannot refine enough gasoline for its own needs. The ayatollahs will put everything they have into a nuclear weapon, but they’ll also allow their nation to stagnate at the bottom of the petroleum value chain. Like the Palestinians, they’d rather set themselves on fire in the name of righteousness. That is why, despite its vast underground riches, Iran remains poorer than Cuba, Mexico, or Gabon. It could double its economic output and still be well behind the hated “Zionist entity.”

The burning gasoline in that Palestinian firebomb? Imported from the Zionist entity, of course.

 — Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent at National Review.


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