Alexander Knysh made the remarks in an interview with IQNA.
Knysh got his PhD from Institute for Oriental Studies, The Soviet Academy of Sciences, Leningrad (currently St. Petersburg) in 1986. His teaching interests include Teaching interests include: Sufism, Quranic Studies, modern Islamic movements, doxography and Islamic Intellectual History.
Following is the full text of the interview:
IQNA: After 9/11, a wave of Islamophobia began in Europe and the United States that has continued to this day. Where do you think this phenomenon comes from?
Knysh: It is a natural reaction of the Western elites and public at large to an attack that is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as inspired by Islam and committed, no doubt in this case, by the Muslims who invoked Islamic doctrine, practice and slogans as their motivation. One can say that these Muslims were delusional, misguided, and not at all representative of the majority of their coreligionists, but this objection is beyond the point. It is the popular perception that matters and provokes Islamophobic responses. In a like vein, the (former) US president (Donald Trump) and his supporters, the Republicans, has accused China of deliberately inventing and spreading the COVID-19, triggering an outburst of Chino-phobia in this country. Again, in a like vein, their opponents, the Democrats, accused Russia of undermining US democracy and compromising its security, thereby unleashing a wave of Russophobia. In other words, Islamophobia is not the only phobia in the US today. It is a necessary means for politicians, rabble-rousers, and demagogues to mobilize a given society, especially such a fractured one as American, against a common enemy, whether real or imaginary.
IQNA: What do you think is behind some European and American Muslims’ joining or approving of extremist groups such as Daesh (ISIL or ISIS)?
Knysh: The major motivation for young Muslims to join various movements and groups advocating violence against non-Muslims in the name of jihad is, in my opinion, the inequities of the current world-order. In other words, it is the division of the world into prosperous, economically successful and politically powerful nations, on the one hand, and the less privileged and prosperous nations that often end up being pawn in the great geopolitical game, on the other. To redress this situation, the younger, idealistic Muslim youth takes up arms in an idealistic hope to make things better for the “oppressed” Muslim nations worldwide. Their agendas usually are utopian and impracticable, but this factor has never stopped young men and women from joining a noble cause and from sacrificing their lives for its sake.
IQNA: To what extent do you think the behavior of European politicians and leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron contributes to the growth of Islamophobia?
Knysh: Macron has his own strongly held convictions, while his opponents have theirs. Macron’s anti-Muslim rhetoric inevitably engenders a backlash. This is bad politics and poor diplomacy on his part, but he stands for the values that he holds dear and is not willing to compromise. People like Macron and those who respond with physical violence to his verbal provocations definitely contribute to the idea of the “clash of civilizations” advocated by the American sociologist Samuel Huntington (1927 – 2008) and his followers among American and European ruling and intellectual elites. The idea of the civilizational clash becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
IQNA: You have studied and researched in the field of Salafism. Where is the root cause of this ideology?
Knysh: Salafism is a modern ideology dressed up into the garb of the return to the roots and values the Golden Age of Islam. The movements designated by this catch-all term are very diverse. They include many different groups with dissimilar political and ideological agendas: apolitical conservatives (the Madkhaliyya), political activists (the Muslim Brotherhood), missionaries and propogandists (al-salafiyya al-daw‘iyya/al-‘ilmiyya), jihadists (mujahedeen), and so on. They all can be loosely described as “fundamentalists,” but each in their own, unique way. In some respects, the Salafis are similar to the European Protestants of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, who also were a mixed bag that contained radicals, social and cultural conservatives, as well as successful entrepreneurs and scientists.
IQNA: What is the situation of Islamic studies in the universities of your country?
Knysh: The prospects for academic study of Islam, as for the majority of social sciences and the humanities in the US, are not very bright at the moment. There are fewer than ever students interested in studying Islam, because the prospects of employment for specialists on Islam and Muslim societies are rather dim these days. Students are attracted to more pragmatic disciplines that promise quick and well-paid employment, although today even such disciplines do not automatically guarantee employment and social advancement. Demographically, the overwhelming majorly of [post-]graduate students specializing in Islamic studies are Muslims, both Sunnis and Shias, Salafis and Sufis. When they become teachers and researchers, they will promote the version of Islam they consider the most correct and authentic.
IQNA: What is the situation of Muslims in your country and are they well integrated in society?
Knysh: Yes, they are, in both the US and Russia, although in the latter country the influx of migrant workers from the Caucasus and Central Asia have presented severe challenges to both the migrants and the host society. In the US, on the other hand, the migration of Muslim has been reduced to a trickle under the current presidency with its anti-Muslim policies, including the notorious Muslim immigration ban. This issue, however, is complex and requires a separate discussion.
Interview by Mohammad Hassan Goodarzi