Vali Nasr is an Iranian-American political commentator and scholar of contemporary Islam. Born in Iran, Nasr and his family immigrated to the United States following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Nasr received a BA from Tufts University in 1981 and a masters from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1984. He earned his PhD from MIT in political science in 1991.
Known for his view that wars within Islam will shape the future, Nasr has testified before Congress and has advised the President and Vice-President regarding sectarian violence in Iraq. Nasr is the author The Shia Revival, Democracy in Iran, and The Islamic Leviathan.
He has taught at the University of San Diego and the Naval Postgraduate School, and is currently a Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard and Professor of International Politics at Tufts. A Life Member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Nasr has been published in Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, Time, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among others. He is an editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Islam and has appeared on CNN, the BBC, National Public Radio, and not least of all The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report.
Question: What inspires you?
Vali Nasr: Well there are different things we try to achieve.
Within the narrow confines of academia, you strive for intellectual excellence. We’re all interested in complex issues. We’re driven by the life of the mind. We enjoy the intellectual give and take. And we like to learn more and shed more light on what we work on, be it theoretical issues or issues about countries we’re interested in.
But also, at least in my own case, I strive to make the Middle East much more understandable to a broader American public. Because I think at this particular juncture in time, it is the one relationship we have in the world which matters much more than any others to our future security, prosperity, our position in the world – in ways that it didn’t only a decade ago.
And I think there is a dearth of knowledge. There is a huge vacuum of knowledge in the United States about fundamental issues, and our relationship with the Muslim world and the Middle East. And therefore I think engaging in the public discourse of the kind that we’re actually doing now for a broader audience is an important service.
As an American and as a Muslim; as somebody with an origin in the Middle East, I see it as an important duty to help create that bridge in the public arena.
Recorded on: Dec 3, 2007