Laurent Murawiec died a couple of days ago, and his funeral was held this morning in the same cemetery in the Maryland countryside outside Washington where my parents’ bodies are buried. A surprisingly large turnout, I thought–Laurent was not a ‘famous’ person by Washington standards–and a very nice rabbi. His brothers flew in from Paris. His parents, however, were not up to the trip.
Laurent was one of the bravest and most brilliant intellectuals of his generation. I have no doubt that his work will be studied for a very long time, and in a just world he would have been honored and acclaimed by all those who care about the advance of understanding. His slim volume, The Mind of Jihad, is hands down the best book on the subject, and his book on Saudi Arabia, Princes of Darkness; the Saudi Assault on the West, produced an international reaction so intense that it at once made him a controversial figure and a target of the powerful Saudi lobby, as well as a valued expert among the best strategic thinkers in America and Europe.
Today’s eulogies stressed Laurent’s inquisitiveness, his vast knowledge, his independence of spirit, and the elegance of his work. All true. But I think they missed the most important thing about him, which is also the thing most pundits miss about great minds: the playfulness of his mind. Laurent loved puns, adored jokes, and delighted in juggling apparently contradictory themes and ideas in order to rearrange them into a new, coherent understanding of our world. In his last weeks, although he suffered a lot from a terrible combination of infections and cancer, he never stopped laughing. Just as his playfulness and wit got him to a level of understanding far beyond anything most of his contemporaries achieved, it also enabled him to fight against his doom with a vigor that confirmed his creativity.
Laurent’s combination of courage, wit and creativity reminds me of another friend, our neighbor up the street Charles Krauthammer. I am given to understand that Charles endures considerable pain, and yet his cheerfulness brightens our neighborhood. Like Laurent, Charles loves humor and adores playing; he’s a talented chess player. All of which confirms my belief that original thinkers are playful.
Which is not to say that all great game players are original thinkers. I spend a good deal of time playing competitive bridge, and it’s very hard to find a bridge champion who also excels at some other enterprise. There are exceptions, but they are very rare indeed–such as Pierre Chemla, a great French classicist who won several international championships at the bridge table. And there are some celebrated businessmen who have done very well, too. But almost all the great bridge champions were just bridge players, as almost all the great chess masters were just chess players.
But I insist that most of the great thinkers were, and are, playful. And Laurent Murawiec was one of the most playful of them all.
Which is why his passing is a double loss. We are deprived of both his genius and his sparkling, playful humor.