How to Cure a Fanatic

Like many people, I’ve always been wondering how the Jews, barely escaped from being extinct, can behave like they do in Israel and Palestine today. It seems, some of them wonder as well. One of them is Amos Oz who has written a wonderful book about fanaticism: How to Cure a Fanatic.

If you don’t understand that I’m arguing against violence here, get the book and read it.

According to the book, a fanatic is a person who cares so much about you that he’d rather kill you than let you be miserable.

Oddly, this makes sense. Fanatics want to make the world a better place — at all cost. In the second chapter of the book, Oz tells a short story why this doesn’t work. He does that in a way that even a fanatic might understand (translated into English by me; all mistakes are mine).


A friend of Amos Oz, the Israeli romancer Sami Michael once made a long trip in a car. During the ride, the driver gave him the usual lecture how important it was for the Jews to kill all Arabs.

Instead of harassing this guy with “What a horrible man you are! Are you Nazi? A Fascist?”, Sami listened. He had decided to try a new approach and he asked the driver: “And who, in your opinion, should actually kill all the Arabs?”

The driver replied: “What are you talking about? We! The Israeli Jews! We have to! We have no choice, just look at what they do to us every day!”

“But who exactly should do the job in your opinion? The police or maybe the army or the fire brigade or a team of doctors? Who should do the work?”

The driver scratched his head: “I think it should be spread among us. Everyone should kill a few.”

Sami went along with the game. “O.K., I assume you will pick an apartment building in the capital of Haifa, you ring the doorbell or you knock on every door and you say: ‘Excuse me, dear Sir or Madam, are you an Arab by any chance?’ And if he or she should reply with ‘yes’, you will shoot them. Then, you just finished your block and want to go home, just then, you hear a baby cry somewhere on the third floor. Would you go back and shoot the baby? Yes or no?”

There was a moment of silence, then the driver said to Sami: “You know, you are a very cruel person.”


Now, if your feel anger or disgust, you didn’t understand the point of the story, so get the book and read it. For everyone else, think about it. You’ll be surprised how many levels of understanding this simple story has and how well it explains the reasons and the fundamental flaw of a fanatic.

Disclaimer: No humans and no animals were harmed, tortured or killed for this blog entry. Only my cat is now mad at me because I dared not to devote her my full attention while I wrote this.

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