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Revisited: A Profile of Arsalan Iftikhar

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, September 6, 2017

In anticipation of Class of '91 alumnus Arsalan Iftikhar's upcoming September 13, 2017 visit and presentation, the Avery Coonley School is proud to share this interview with Arsalan from 2014, in which he shares some of his favorite experiences as an ACS student and talks about his work as a social justice and human rights advocate. 

Arsalan Iftikhar
ACS Class of 1991
High School: Downers Grove North
College: Washington University in St. Louis (A.B.)
Grad School: Washington University in St. Louis (J.D.)

Could you describe your work?
I am an author, journalist, and global media commentator as well as an international human rights lawyer. I also recently started as an adjunct professor at DePaul University teaching a class called the “Islamic Experience” in the Religious Studies department. Although I am a licensed attorney, almost all of my work involves writing and providing analysis and commentary in a variety of media outlets. I am a weekly contributor for National Public Radio (NPR) and serve as Senior Editor for The Islamic Monthly magazine. I am also the founder of and wrote a book called Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era. Over the last twelve-plus years, I have been interviewed by and contributed pieces to a wide variety of national and global newspapers, magazines, and news programs around the world.

How did your career begin?
Well, I was a second-year law student when 9/11 happened in 2001. As soon as the evidence began to show that the perpetrators were Muslims, I recognized the importance of condemning their actions and communicating the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. I wanted to make it known that Islam is inherently a religion of tolerance and peace, that the killing of innocents is never condoned, and that the actions of the terrorists could not and should not be labeled “Islamic.” I wrote an editorial right after the attacks and sent it off to all the major newspapers in the country, and within a very short time many responded, saying that they would be running the piece the next day. Since then, I have done hundreds of television, radio and newspaper interviews and my career has evolved from there.

Is your work fulfilling?
It is certainly a labor of love since I have probably received over 700 death threats in my life. I am definitely not doing it for the money or the security, but being a part of our global marketplace of ideas is something that I truly love and hopefully is my contribution to my humanity.

What are some of the things about which you are passionate?
Social justice and human rights for everyone. I am engaged in the global media and sociopolitical discourse because I want to represent the disenfranchised and those without a voice. It is a great privilege to be a part of the public arena and to be able to discuss issues that are important to people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Were any of your career interests or passions formed while you were at Avery Coonley?
Sure. From a very early age, the strong sense of community at ACS was very important to me and the diversity of the student body helped to ingrain a sense of equality in me since my childhood. We knew each other so well – we knew each other’s parents and siblings – it was more than a community; it was a family. My parents immigrated to this country over 35 years ago and they wanted to send their children to a warm and nurturing educational environment. To this day, my dad still says that sending his kids to Avery Coonley was the best investment he has ever made for his children.

What are some of your favorite Avery Coonley memories?
Of course, the teachers and other extracurricular activities, like math team and the basketball team; Mr. Mickel was our basketball coach. The Thanksgiving program was always an annual highlight and looking back, I realize how important it was that we all knew that the food that we collected went to those who were less fortunate than us. I also really enjoyed the Third Group trip to Lake Geneva, and I remember finishing third overall in the Spelling Bee when I was in Fourth Grade. I misspelled the word “intolerant”, which seems pretty ironic now!

Also, my whole family were “ACS Lifers” since both my younger sister and brother also attended ACS since preschool. Our shared experiences – the teachers, projects, special events – formed much of our family experiences, both then and now.

What aspects of your ACS experience were most important for you?
The focused importance on forming well-rounded individuals, rather than obsessing about test scores and trophies, was very important. It was great that we had so many opportunities to explore our interests and try new things from a very early age.

Similarly, I also think that learning French from such an early age was also a very valuable experience. Being bilingual expanded my horizons from an early age and I have even done some work for the French Foreign Ministry since that time. But beyond that, this in-depth exposure to another culture really expands children’s worldviews and helps them to realize that there is a big world out there, with many different languages, cultures, and traditions.

Do you stay in touch with your ACS friends?
Yes, many of us are connected on Facebook – social media definitely makes it easier to stay in touch with people.

What advice do you have for today’s ACS students?
Follow your passions in whatever you do in your lives. Please do not do anything because of money or because other people tell you to follow a career path; do what you love! Try to contribute to the world and help as many other people as possible, in whatever way you see fit. Plus, don’t ever think you’re not good enough. We all go through struggles and tough times during our adolescence – try to remember that everything will be just fine. Don’t ever give up on yourself or on other people.

This profile of Class of '91 alumnus Arsalan Iftikhar originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of The Avery Coonley School Magazine

Creating the Future Lecture Series Presents: Arsalan Iftikhar takes place on Wednesday evening, September 13, 2017, 6:30-8:30pm (doors at 6pm) in the Avery Coonley School Performing Arts Center. The presentation will include time for an audience Q&A and will be followed by a book-signing. The event is all-ages welcome and open to the general public to attend. Registration is required and tickets are $10; attendees will also have the option to pre-order Arsalan's books, Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms, and Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era.



Tags:  alumni  Arsalan Iftikhar  Creating the Future  diversity  inclusion 

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A Statement from the ACS Head of School on Charlottesville

Posted By Melissa (Michi) A. Trota (Trota), Thursday, August 17, 2017

As Avery Coonley School prepares to welcome students, new and returning, to another school year of growth, learning, and community, our excitement is tempered by the recent riots in Charlottesville, VA. Various groups embracing the toxic ideologies of white supremacy, the KKK, neo-Nazism, and anti-Semitism initiated violence fueled by hatred and bigotry that claimed a brave woman’s life, injured many others, and left sadness, pain, and fear in their wake. These horrific ideologies stand in direct opposition to everything ACS represents: devotion to education and understanding, commitment to civic responsibility, and our embrace of diverse and inclusive communities.

Our first and foremost priority is the safety, both physical and emotional, and well-being of every member of our community; as an institution of education, we also have a responsibility to speak truthfully about the harm wrought by hatred and bigotry, and the need to condemn it swiftly and loudly. History has shown us the human toll exacted when such ugliness makes itself known, and who often pays the terrible cost when it’s allowed to run rampant and unchallenged. It has also taught us what can be achieved through principled resolve, resistance, and inspiration. We choose to follow the brave examples of those who have worked and fought for the progression of justice and equality.

Taking a direct stance against hate speech and bigoted violence is a moral and ethical imperative, one that should not be defined by partisan politics. Only by doing so can we truly contribute to creating a safe and bright future, not just for our students, but for the world they will inherit. To our students, to our staff, to all members of the ACS community: You are all welcome and wanted in our ever-expanding family, and your human rights are sacrosanct. We join in solidarity with our sibling institutions and communities in their unequivocal condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and discrimination, and we reaffirm our dedication to creating a culture that is just and inclusive of all, regardless of ethnicity, race, ancestry, age, interests, sexual orientation, LGBTQIA status, religion, disability status, national origin, immigration status, or gender.

On behalf of the ACS community, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Charlottesville, and with all those who have been victimized by bigotry, fear, and hatred.


In light of these recent events, we feel it is even more important to highlight the necessity of understanding, critical thinking, and empathy as part of education. We have been excited about the return of ACS alumnus Arsalan Iftikhar (Class of ‘91), a noted international human rights lawyer, author, and Senior Research Fellow at Georgetown University, who will be speaking at ACS about Islamophobia and the need to build inclusive communities. Unfortunately, we recently received a hateful, Islamophobic message about Arsalan’s upcoming visit from someone outside of our community, but we stand firm in our dedication to ACS’s principles of inclusion and diversity, as well as our commitment to our community’s safety and well-being. Below is the message I recently sent to ACS parents addressing this issue:

Dear Parents:

As most of you know, we are very excited to host human rights attorney, author and speaker, ACS alum Arsalan Iftikhar on September 13th. Arsalan will spend the day with our students and present to the parents in the evening. Sadly, last night we and some members of the ACS community received what can only be described as a hateful and repulsive email from someone pretending (trolling) to be an ACS parent. This individual railed against our hosting Arsalan, and stated extremely negative and ugly views about our hosting the upcoming visit, Islam, and our community.

I want to take the moment to state unequivocally that ACS will never back away from standing up for human rights, and being a community that welcomes, embraces and supports all backgrounds, religions, ethnicities, and genders. The only speech or views we will denounce are those of hate and those that seek to harm or hurt others. The email we received just reinforces, especially as our nation is dealing with the events such as Charlottesville, why bringing Arsalan to ACS is so valuable and so important to our students and to all members of our community.

I firmly believe in my heart that what ACS stands for, and my message, transcend political parties or labeling as liberal or conservative. ACS stands for inclusion, and for celebrating our deeply diverse community members. We will not be intimidated by hate or fear. All students who attend ACS and all who are members of our community must continue to feel safe, secure and supported, and we will welcome Arsalan with open arms and hearts.

Although the email we received was a hateful message, let us all turn this into an opportunity to recommit together to the core values of ACS and celebrate the opening of school in unity!

We are proud of our community's overwhelmingly positive response and eagerness to welcome Arsalan back to ACS. His thoughtful, passionate, and dedicated work reflects the best of the ACS tradition, and we hope you’ll join us in continuing to build inclusive, welcoming communities, both here at ACS and beyond.


Paul Druzinsky, Head of School

on behalf of the ACS Faculty & Staff

Arsalan’s evening presentation at the Avery Coonley School on Wednesday, September 13, 2017, 6:30-8:30pm, is open to the public and all-ages welcome. Ticket registration is required to attend. For more information, visit

For more information or any inquiries, please contact Associate Director of Communications and Marketing Michi Trota,

Tags:  Charlottesville  diversity  inclusion  multiculturalism 

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