University News

Human rights lawyer traces chronology of Islamophobia

Contributing Writer

Correction appended.

The downfalls of Osama Bin Laden, Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak marks a new era for Islam, said international human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar in his lecture in Salomon 101 last night.

Over 120 students, faculty and community members of different religions, cultures and races gathered to hear Iftikhar discuss his book, “Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era.”

Iftikhar is known for his many appearances as a political pundit on cable news networks and his contributions to media outlets, including USA Today, Esquire and the Economist. But his most notable endeavor is his personal website,, where Iftikhar gathers an array of articles, appearances and opinions — all very flippant in tone.

His lecture centered around his book and included a timeline beginning Sept. 11, 2001, the date he called the “birth of modern day Islamophobia.” Much of the first portion of the lecture focused on the various forms of Islamophobia in the U.S. following the terrorist attacks, emphasizing the Muslim reaction to hate crimes.

Making a parallel to Christianity, Iftikhar recalled telling a female Muslim student to inquire, “What would Muhammad do?” when westerners attack Islamic ideologies. The answer, he said, is nothing — Muhammad would do nothing. Muhammad’s non-violence is the basis for Iftikhar’s argument for Islamic pacifism.

Notable in the lecture was Iftikhar’s own rhetoric — his casual demeanor reflected the young age of his target audience. He said he wants both Muslim and non-Muslim children to use religion only for good and “enter the global marketplace of ideas.”

An even more relaxed Iftikhar emerged in the question and answer session, as he answered questions about the death of Bin Laden, the Arab Spring movement and optimism toward the future. Iftikhar presented shocking statistics — 29 percent of Americans believe President Obama is a Muslim, and 1 out of every 4 Americans would be uncomfortable with a neighbor who identifies as a Muslim, he said.

Iftikhar’s visit was partially sponsored by the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life’s recent initiative, B-Literate. The event was another effort by the office to engage students in religious discourse, Reverend Janet Cooper Nelson, chaplain of the University, told The Herald. She called Iftikhar the “Stephanopolous of Islam … a charismatic leader” for the new generation.

“There’s a difference between religious identity and religious practice,” Cooper Nelson said. Graduates should leave the University with more understanding of other individuals, she added.

The office is attempting to bring more lecturers like Iftikhar, while continuing efforts to further the ultimate message on the importance of interfaith discourse, she said.

Cooper Nelson said she would like to see the day that Brown institutes a religious studies requirement for some, if not most, concentrations. Religious literacy is an important part of current society, where American students need to understand global issues, she said.

Though Iftikhar emphasized that he remains optimistic, he ended the lecture on a somber note. At the end of the day, he said, we are all left to “wonder if God will ever forgive us for what we have done to each other.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Arsalan Iftikhar’s last name. The Herald regrets the error.