Amarnath Amarasingam: People don’t understand, and make no effort to try to understand IslamSerhat Tunar@tunar_serhatMr. Amarnath Amarasingam has kindly answered our questions about the past, current and future stages of Islamophobia. What do you think is the reason why people have phobias (Islamophobia, Russophobia, Anti-Semitism, Anti-Americanism etc.) in today’s world? Do these phobias reflect their insecurity, self-hate or ignorance feelings? And what causes these phobias to rise?That’s a difficult question. On one level, people are afraid of things they don’t understand, and things they think are acting aggressively towards things they hold dear. Many of these “phobias” arise in very different context and very different periods, so I’m not sure they can all be conflated. In the case of anti-Americanism, for example, it has a lot to do with American foreign policy, I think - this perception that the American government doesn’t care about the lives of others, the security of others, and so on. This view, combined with a sense that the American government is hypocritical in terms of its own ideals and how it behaves outwardly, all contribute to anti-Americanism. How did Islamophobia begin? What caused Islamophobia to come up with people’s within?I think, for one, there is a profound ignorance of Islam around the world. People don’t understand, and make no effort to try to understand, the religion, the tradition, the history of Islam. This ignorance allows the noisy subset within the faith, the extremists, to monopolize all discussion of Islam. No one talks about Sufism, or the complexities of fiqh, and so on. Our understanding of Islam is always mediated by the most violent and the loudest of the faith. In this context, some will understand that we are not getting a full picture of the religion. But, for others, it is confused with the religion itself. It is not just terrorism, but honour killings, lashing of women, the burqa - things that exist in different countries in different contexts - are all conflated with Islam as such. It’s lazy and it’s dangerous.What is the turning point of people’s point of view towards Islamophobia in U.S.? Could we say 9/11 is the one or was it the climax of this phenomenon?I think 9/11 was a major turning point, but the fallout from 9/11 is also important. The way the American government used, for example, Afghan women as one argument for why they should attack Afghanistan had lasting consequences for how Americans came to view Muslim women as oppressed, needing to be “saved”, and in danger by “Muslim men”. A lot of these similar islamophobic tropes constantly surface. Would Islam’s characteristic of being the religion of tolerance be enough for the world to overcome this phobia?I don’t think so. I’ve talked to members of the Muslim community as well as people who are quite anti-Islam and both agree that simply saying that Islam is a “religion of peace” has little effect. In fact, it has the opposite effect - it makes the listener think they are being lied to, or not being told the full truth. So, it is much more effective to lay out the full context of the faith - the different movements, different schools of thought and so on. People understand that. People understand, for example, that conservative Christians are one group within Christianity, etc. The same divisions exist in Islam and it is important to reiterate that.When it comes to “Global Terrorism” the first thing that occurs in people’s mind is “Islamic Terrorism”. Would you agree with this opinion? If so, can we assume that the reason of this relies on the politics of great powers? Does Islamophobia belong to these countries’ big stick policy? I think on one level; the cause of Islamic extremism is indeed western foreign policy over the years. On another level though, jihadists hate the West not just for what the West does, but what the West is. Many tenets of jihadism are fundamentally anti-other, anti-democracy, anti-Shia, etc. So, it cannot all be blamed on great power politics.Looking from a different point of view, why do so many people want to join in these Islamic Terrorist Groups? As is known, they can always find militants who want to fight for them. How politicians or countries can tackle ‘the foreign fighters’ phenomena? This is a big question. I think there are many push and pull factors at play. Especially when it comes to foreign fighters from the west, we have seen a variety of social backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, individuals with different psychological issues, and so on. But, regardless of their background, they are drawn to this movement because it gives them a sense of belonging, a sense of being involved with a global revolutionary movement that purports to re-establish the golden age of Islam in the present day.We are living in an era in which hate is rising uncontrollably. And Islamophobia has been characterized with Donald Trump in 2016 election period in United States. We can say that Trump is the new face of Islamophobia phenomenon. Among the previous presidents and candidates in the past was there anyone who had hate speech towards Islam publicly? If so, how was the reaction of people to this?I think Trump’s anti-Islamic rhetoric is indeed new - or at least more out in the open than before. Even George W. Bush made a distinction between “terrorists” and “Muslims”. Trump, instead, has demonized the entire community, has demonized Syrian refugees, has demonized Mexican immigrants, and so on. He is tapping into deep-seated American protectionism, and deep-seated American fear that their way of life is under attack. This is why he has very strong followers among some, but not most, Americans.You have made contact with an ISIS member and as we saw in the text messages that ISIS is not eager to fight with the US-led coalition. Do you think that these operations made by the coalition are enough for sweeping out ISIS or does ISIS have another plan for their future?I think if the coalition forces dedicate themselves to wiping out ISIS, it can be done quite quickly. The bigger question is what happens to the thousands of fighters, the thousands of foreign fighters, the women from various countries who have made hijrah, the children that have been bored in the so-called caliphate. I don’t think we have thought enough about how to handle all the issues that come with the defeat of ISIS. Some fighters within ISIS do have apocalyptic beliefs, and will fight to the end. But, others want to leave also. The defeat of ISIS will give rise to newer issues that we will have to deal with.Lastly, what can we do to prevent Islamophobia and other phobias from spreading? How can we raise awareness about it?I think the main point is to raise awareness about Islam, the many strands of Islam, the different stories of Islam. The danger is in the single story, and the single lens with which we often see Islam and Muslims. This needs to be changed.Who is Amarnath Amarasingam?Amarnath Amarasingam is a Fellow at The George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, and Co-Directs a study of Western foreign fighters based at the University of Waterloo. He is the author of Pain, Pride, and Politics: Sri Lankan Tamil Activism in Canada (2015). His research interests are in radicalization, terrorism, diaspora politics, post-war reconstruction, and the sociology of religion.You can follow Mr. Amarasingam at twitter (@AmarAmarasingam).