Can Education Overcome Fanaticism?
By:  Kai Lukoff
Petaluma, CA


"Fanaticism has many faces: racism, religious bigotry, ethnic hatred. What these faces have in common is an urge to replace words with violence, facts with propaganda, reason with blind impulses, hope with terror" (Wiesel 3).

Elie Wiesel is able to define fanaticism through his first-hand experiences as a Holocaust survivor. On the other side of the concentration camp barbed wire fence was Adolf Hitler, the mastermind of the fanatical Nazi ideology who dictated in Mein Kamnf, "The one means that wins the easiest victory over reason: terror and force." Even today, fanaticism "has many faces", rearing its ugly head most recently in the September 1 I 'h tragedy. "There is America, hit by God in one of its softest spots. Its greatest buildings were destroyed, thank God for that" (1). While Osama bin Laden is distinctly ideologically different from Hitler, they have one thing in common: a blatant disregard for human life. From the gas chambers of Auschwitz to the destruction of the twin towers of New York, fanaticism has caused the deaths of innumerable, innocent victims.

Fanaticism was, during the Holocaust, and is still today, a mortal enemy of humankind. Since it doesn't attribute value to human life, it can easily lead to genocide. One of Hitler's highest officials, Heydrich Himmler, bluntly stated, "Whether nations live in prosperity or starve to death interests me only insofar as we need them as slaves for our culture" (Craig et a1988). Only fanatics could be so vicious and inhumane as to carry out the atrocities of the Holocaust. Fanaticism is an extremely aggressive and narrowminded approach that knows no tolerance, no reason, and no peace. In fact, most of the conflicts fought around the world today are ignited by ethnic, religious, and militant fanaticism. Medically speaking, fanaticism could be diagnosed as crippling blindness of the mind.

How, then, can one combat fanaticism? By opening the eyes of the mind. Or as Elie Wiesel, who once again offers pure and priceless insight, put it, "True education negates fanaticism" (4). Yet how could the Holocaust have originated in what was, at the time, the most educated country in the world? (Childers) Because literacy rate and the three R's (reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic) are not benchmarks of true education. Even fanatics like Hitler wanted people to be educated as scientists, engineers, and military strategists to advance their agenda. A rocket scientist can calculate the maximum aerodynamic properties of a fuselage, but that is not an education which combats fanaticism. Take, for example, Arthur R. Butz, a Holocaust denier who attacks the "erroneous belief in the legend of millions of Jews killed by the Germans during World War II." Professor Butz is certainly "educated" in the sense that he is an associate professor of electrical engineering at Northwestern University, but true education has escaped him. In addition to employing education for their cause, fanatics even use it as a brainwashing weapon. The extreme militarists of Hamas, who are currently wreaking havoc upon Israel, fund schools in Palestine where, along with learning how to read the Koran and draw circles, five-year old students are taught what to do with Jews: "'Kill them!' the children cry out" (Bardkhen A1).

Fanatical and oppressive regimes all over the globe and throughout the ages have always suppressed any true humanitarian education. Hitler said that "Universal education is the most corroding and disintegrating poison..." His ally and counterpart in Italy, Benito Mussolini, also realized the threat that true education of the people posed to his fanatical regime: "It is necessary to be very intelligent in the work of repression. All opposition journals have been suppressed and all the anti-fascist organizations dissolved."

Even to this day, fanatics continue to fight open education. Osama bin Laden's recently defeated supporters, the Taliban, forbid education for women and greatly limited the curriculum in schools. It is no coincidence that the types of education fanatics exclude is also the true education that offers hope to stop the evils of fanaticism that face our world today.

What, then, is a true education? It is an education that opens the mind. Beyond teaching the facts, not lies or propaganda, it is a humanitarian education which focuses on seeing the human beings behind stereotypes and incorporates the ideals of democracy and equality. It includes cross-cultural perspectives that cover diverse religions, history, literature, art, and music. Its ultimate goal is to teach tolerance, diversity, and a respect for all people around the world. Had the Germans celebrated instead of scorned the differences in their fellow Jewish citizens, would the Holocaust have ever happened? Projects such as the Compassionate Listening Project for Jewish-German Reconciliation and the Holocaust Remembrance Project remind youth of the lessons of the holocaust. Such teachings about the value of life, peace, and tolerance can successfully prepare youth to recognize the early warning signs of fanaticism. By opening the mind to the evils of fanaticism, true education can drive it to extinction.

Unfortunately, when in 1941, Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish refugee in America, recognized fanaticism and fought to alert people against the killing machine of Nazi Germany, too few were truly educated to recognize his warnings. Alone, he was dismissed as a Jewish alarmist and could not prevent the Holocaust. Lemkin had nothing left to do but bitterly coin the name for the murder of his Jewish family, what Winston Churchill had called a "crime without a name": genocide. (Destexhe qtd.)
In this day and age, when bin Laden has demonstrated how a small number of fanatics can bring about mass murder, it is more important than ever to combat fanaticism with true education for all world citizens. Hitler based his fanatical policies on the assumption "What luck for the rulers that men do not think." With true education, men and women will learn to think, and perhaps more importantly, fanaticism cannot take seed, root, and grow.

Works Cited

Bin Laden, Osama. "Bin Laden's message to America: you reap what you sow." Trans. ABC News Online. 8 October 2001. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 29 March 2002. <>

Badkhen, Anna. "All they are teaching gives peace no chance." San Francisco Chronicle. 25 April 2002, Al.

Childers, Thomas. "A History of Hitler's Empire, 2' Edition." The Teaching Company. 2001.

Craig, Albert M. et al. The Heritage of World Civilizations. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1997.

Destexhe, Alain. Rwanda and Genocide in the Twentieth Century. Qtd. New York: New York University Press, 1995.

Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kamnf. New York: Hurst and Blackett Ltd., 1942. Mussolini, Benito. Speech. 26 March 1926.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus: a survivor's tale, 11: and here my troubles began. New York: Random House, 1991.

Wiesel, Elie. "Have You Learned The Most Important Lesson of All?" Parade 24 May 1992:3-6.


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