Amos Oz on Fanaticism

“Fanaticism dates back much earlier than Islam. Earlier than Christianity and Judaism. Earlier than all the ideologies in the world. It is an elemental fixture of human nature, a “bad gene.” People who bomb abortion clinics, murder immigrants in Europe, murder Jewish women and children in Israel, burn down a house in the Israeli-occupied territories with an entire Palestinian family inside, desecrate synagogues and churches and mosques and cemeteries—they are all distinct from al-Qaeda and ISIS in the scope and severity of their acts, but not in their nature. Today we speak of “hate crimes,” but perhaps a more accurate term would be “zealotry crimes,” and such crimes are carried out almost daily, including against Muslims.

Genocide and jihad and the Crusades, the Inquisition and the gulags, extermination camps and gas chambers, torture dungeons and indiscriminate terrorist attacks: none of these are new, and almost all of them preceded the rise of radical Islam by centuries.

As the questions grow harder and more complicated, people yearn for simpler answers, one-sentence answers, answers that point unhesitatingly to a culprit who can be blamed for all our suffering, answers that promise that if we only eradicate the villains, all our troubles will vanish.

“It’s all because of globalization!” “It’s all because of the Muslims!” “It’s all because of permissiveness!” or “because of the West!” or “because of Zionism!” or “because of immigrants!” or “because of secularism!” or “because of the left wing!” All one needs to do is cross out the incorrect entries, circle the right Satan, then kill that Satan (along with his neighbors and anyone who happens to be in the area), thereby opening the gates of heaven once and for all.

More and more commonly, the strongest public sentiment is one of profound loathing—subversive loathing of “the hegemonic discourse,” Western loathing of the East, Eastern loathing of the West, secular loathing of believers, religious loathing of the secular. Sweeping, unmitigated loathing surges like vomit from the depths of this or that misery. Such extreme loathing is a component of fanaticism in all its guises.

For example, concepts that only half a century ago seemed innovative and exciting—multiculturalism and identity politics—quickly morphed, in many places, into the politics of identity hatred. What began with an expansion of cultural and emotional horizons is increasingly deteriorating into narrower horizons, isolationism, and hatred of the other. In short, a new wave of loathing and extremism assails us from all sides.”

~ Amos Oz, from “Dear Zealots.” 2002.

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