The Heritage of Amos Oz

It’s always ungrateful to write the biographies of great people, Oscar Wilde once said, because for each of them there will be one Judas who will take the job. It is also ungrateful to write a post mortem gloria tribute, fearing that the fullness of the message of a great man cannot be expressed in the most correct way.

Almost half a year since the death of Amos Oz, I wonder, after all the eulogies from his friends, as well as his enemies, what in the end can be said that has already been not?

In recent days Israel faces new security challenges — a topic Oz frequently commented in the media. He did not support Huntington’s theory on the conflict of civilizations; therefore, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in his opinion, was not of such a nature. Still, in his struggle for peace, he did not go into the extremes of pacifist romanticism, where war is perceived as absolutely evil and where participation in it is even worse. As a soldier in the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, he said, just before his death, that in the case of the same scenario he would go to defend Israel. But, he added, would never do so for a “room extension” or a defense of a national interests.

Here, however, I want to look back at one recognizable feature of his literary heritage. In his probably most famous work of the non-fictional category How to Cure a Fanatic (Princeton University Press, 2006) Oz provided a unique recipe of how fanatic can be gradually cured from a hateful indoctrination.

“I have never once in my life”, he writes, “seen a fanatic with a sense of humor, nor have I ever seen a person with a sense of humor become a fanatic, unless he or she has lost that sense of humor. Fanatics are often sarcastic. Some of them have a very pointed sense of sarcasm, but no humor. Humor contains the ability to laugh at ourselves. Humor is relativism, humor is the ability to see yourself as others may see you, humor is the capacity to realize that no matter how righteous you are and how terribly wronged you have been, there is a certain side to life that is always a bit funny. The more right you are, the funnier you become.”

In his last novel Judas, Oz describes a scene inspired by his own experience from his youth while he traveling through Europe. In the train wagon there are two nuns and one Jew. Noticing that a young man is reading newspapers in Hebrew, a younger nun, full of compassion, asked: “How could you? He was so sweet”. Oz dropped the papers, trying to remember a famous event that has put the blame on his people and said: “I was not there. I had dentist appointment.”

About the Author
Luka Neskovic is an author, and columnist for The Huffington Post.
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