Skip to main content


2021 Fall

Middle East Center Newsletter


As we prepare for another year of pandemic-related uncertainty, we at the Middle East Center are looking forward to engaging all of our members on the important issues relating to our area, the Middle East and North Africa. The MEC is also excited to work with Professor Naomi Sokoloff, an expert on modern Jewish literature, as the new Chair in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. In this newsletter, you will find just a small sampling of the activities that we, here at the MEC, are working on as well as well as what some of our colleagues are up to. You will also have a chance to meet some of our new faculty (Professors Asli Cansunar and Makda Weatherspoon) and students, both graduate and undergraduate, across the college. And, if you ever wondered what our FLAS and MA graduates end up doing with their degrees, check out the terrific update on our 2019 graduate, Pablo Jairo Tutillo.

We invite you to join us for our upcoming speaker series, Voices in the Middle East, and our Fall Round Table on Afghanistan and Its Regional Relationships. Given the terrific response we had last year to our online series, we expect to continue in this way at least through the end of the Autumn term. Keep up with all of our upcoming events by checking out our website or joining our  mailing list.

As always, we are grateful for such an engaged community. Please consider supporting the Middle East Center  as we work to educate UW students and the residents of Washington State.

We wish you health and safety in these trying times.

Arzoo Osanloo
Director, Middle East Center
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies




Asli Cansunar Joins the Department of Political Science as an Assistant Professor

Asli Cansunar

The Middle East Center is very pleased to welcome Asli Cansunar to the University of Washington, where she has been appointed to the position of Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science beginning this fall quarter. For the past two years, Professor Cansunar was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Oxford, Nuffield College, Department of Political Science and International Relations. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Duke University with specializations in Political Economy and Political Methodology.

Professor Cansunar’s scholarly research lies at the intersection of comparative political economy, comparative politics, and economic history, focusing on the political consequences of economic inequality. In particular, she works on the rich’s preferences on redistributive and tax policies, combining formal modeling with laboratory experiments, survey experiments, geospatial analysis, and archival research. Professor Cansunar is currently working on a book manuscript titled: Charitable Infrastructure: Distributional Consequences of the Waqf System in Turkey and the Muslim World, which investigates the social, political, and economic effect of philanthropic public good provision using data from the Ottoman Empire and Turkey. Other recent examples of her Middle East-related research include papers under review for publication titled: “Distributional Consequences of Voluntary Provision of Public Goods: Self-Serving Philanthropy in Ottoman Istanbul,” “Economic Harbingers of Political Modernization: Peaceful Explosion of Rights in Ottoman Istanbul,” and “Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Electoral Responses to Proximity of Health Care in Istanbul.”

Professor Cansunar is a remarkably versatile and talented instructor who has taught courses on inequality, political methodology, political economy of Islam, and geospatial analysis. She is also a big fan of Turkish pop music, especially 1990s pop. Multiple media outlets have covered her research and thoughts on popular songs, economy, and politics.


Introducing Makda Weatherspoon, Visiting Senior Lecturer, Near Eastern Languages and Civilization


The Middle East Center welcomes Makda Weatherspoon to the University of Washington. She is a 2021-22 Visiting Senior Lecturer in Arabic in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization where she is teaching “Gateway to Arabic,” “Lights! Camera! Arabic,” and the year-long “Media Arabic” series.

Makda Weatherspoon

She is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Cornell University where she has taught since 2008. She received her M.A. in 2016 in Applied Linguistics and TESOL from Cambridge University and has extensive experience in the field of Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language (TAFL) with expertise in curriculum design. In 2020-21 she was the recipient of Cornell University’s Sophie Washburn French Instructorship Award in recognition of excellence in language instruction. Her latest publications include:  Teach Arabic with a Sense of Humor (Curious Academic Publishing, 2021); Arabiyyat al-Naas fii MaSr (Pt. 1): An Introductory Course in Arabic, with Munther Younes, Jonathan Featherstone, and Lizz Huntley (Routledge, 2019); Arabiyyat al-Naas (Pt. 2), second edition, with Munther Younes, Hanada al-Masri, Jonathan Featherstone, and Lizz Huntley (forthcoming 2022); and Arabiyyat al-Naas fii Bilaad al-Shaam: An Introductory Course in Arabic, with Munther Younes and Maha Foster (forthcoming in 2022).

Professor Weatherspoon’s teaching philosophy is based on the belief that learning Arabic should be enjoyable and something to look forward to. Moreover, the content material should be relevant to the student, effective in yielding tangible results from the very beginning, and helpful in promoting communicative competence within and outside the classroom. She is experienced in working with diverse and non-traditional students and has taught Arabic through Cornell University’s Prison Education Program in the Auburn Correctional Facility, Auburn, New York.

Her other academic interests include Second Language Acquisition, Corpus Linguistics, Heritage learners of Arabic, Community-engaged learning, utilizing films as a tool for teaching language and culture, and integrating new technologies into language teaching.


Middle East Center Works with Central Oregon Community College on Islamic History Course

“Full Circle” by Julie Speidel, Central Oregon Community College, Bend, OR

Working with community college faculty to strengthen instruction about the Middle East is a very high priority for the Middle East Center. Over the past six months, Center affiliate faculty member, David Fenner, has been partnered with Central Oregon Community College History professor, Jessica Hammerman, to redesign her course titled “History of Islamic Civilizations.” The redesigned course will be offered this fall term in hybrid format with registration open to both Central Oregon Community College students as well as community members. For more details, see KTVZ, Bend OR.


Using Popular TV Serials to Teach Turkish: A New Approach in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization

As with many less commonly taught languages, teaching Turkish in the U.S. faces many challenges. For Turkish, these challenges include the lack of quality course materials that aligns with ACTFL standards and the recent trends in language education, limited time for the language study, the differing student populations—foreign language learners and heritage language learners, as well as the lack of qualified educators in the field.

Assistant Teaching Professor Melike Yücel Koç is taking on these challenges as she redesigns and restructures the Turkish language curriculum in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. By conducting a needs assessment over the past four years, she identified clear student goals, which she is now aligning with innovative teaching methods. The assessment highlighted several outcomes that language students are aiming for, including the ability to communicate effectively in a foreign language and to interact in a culturally appropriate manner with native speakers of that language, to recognize the cultural values, practices, and heritage of the people in the country where the language is primarily spoken, and ultimately to be able to develop strategies for life-long learning of other languages and cultures.

To address what students are searching for in their language learning experience, Professor Yücel Koç is drawing on the worldwide popularity of Turkish TV series to redesign the Elementary and Intermediate Turkish language sequences.  By integrating authentic cultural materials in this innovative new curriculum, students develop their language skills while also enhancing cultural awareness. This new approach offers exciting avenues for crossing cultural boundaries more seamlessly while building meaningful language proficiency in authentic settings. 


An Interview with Arzoo Osanloo on Her Research and Most Recent Book

Forgiveness Work: Mercy, Law, and Victims’ Rights in Iran

Arzoo Osanloo, Director of the Middle East Center and Professor, Law Justice & Society, has won the Law and Society Association’s 2021 Herbert Jacob Book Prize for her book titled Forgiveness Work: Mercy, Law, and Victims’ Rights in Iran (Princeton University Press, 2020) which recognizes new, outstanding work in law and society scholarship. The book examines the little-known provisions of the Iranian criminal code that recognize the concept of forgiveness and permits victims of violent crimes, or the families of murder victims to request that the state forgo punishing the criminal. Drawing on over ten years of participant-observation that included observations of more than eighty murder trials and extended interviews, Arzoo Osanloo explores why some families of victims forgive perpetrators and how a wide array of individuals contributes to the fraught business of negotiating reconciliation. The book is ground-breaking for its consideration of the social reality of the Islamic mandate of mercy and its exploration of a criminal justice system that prioritizes victims’ rights.

Below, we take the opportunity to interview Professor Osanloo about her research for the book and how this work has impacted her.

How and when did you come to focus on the concept of “forgiveness” in the Iranian justice system?

 In 1999, I was in Iran, conducting research for my doctoral dissertation on women’s rights, when quite unexpectedly, my attention was drawn to a murder case in Tehran. Then, one afternoon, I watched on television the highly dramatic scene of forbearance from the scaffolding, when the victim’s father stated that he would “forgive” the perpetrator.

Since then, three issues remained stuck in my conscience. The first was the highly dramatic nature of the event, the public spectacle of it, if you will, which I wrote about in an article in 2006 entitled, “The Measure of Mercy.” Second, even as I considered the dramatic nature of that event, I became quite interested in the legal operations of Iran’s criminal justice system that gives victims’ families so much power: to retaliate in kind or to forgo it altogether. I wondered, who would forgive, when the law gives them the right to retribution.

The third issue that interested me was a statement released after the forbearance by Iran’s Islamic Human Rights Commission, praising not only the father of the victim, but also Iran’s Islamic laws, suggesting that they encompassed or even surpassed (western-style) human rights because they contained provisions for mercy and compassion. This press release led me to a deeper study of the many differences between mercy and (human) rights.

What previous research or scholars were foundational to your project?

I found many useful resources in previous scholarship, but there are two areas of research that allowed me to organize my data and make sense of it analytically. Incidentally, the book is divided into these two sections, as well. The first was the sociolegal scholarship on “crimtorts”, a term coined by Thomas Koenig and Michael Rustad, to refer to crimes which states have enhanced with private remedies to fill a void in criminal law (1988). Although in Iran the opposite happens (the state actually supplements the private remedy with a public one), the result is the same, that murder and other harms actually have both private and public complainants. To understand the logic of this remedy for murder, I needed to better understand how Iran’s criminal justice system evolved both before and after the 1979 Revolution.

In the book, I argue that the criminal law and procedures that encourage forbearance have actually forged a cottage industry of forgiveness work, which is comprised of numerous actors, from judges and lawyers to social workers, religious figures, and even national celebrities. As one can imagine, these actors do not always act in concert. To better understand the workings of this cottage industry, I drew from a second analytical concept, “lifeworlds,” as it is used by existential anthropologist, Michael Jackson. The term lifeworlds has a long genealogy and many scholars have used it, but Jackson’s definition was the one that resonated best with my work. Jackson suggests that human beings exist in relation to one another and that “speech and action are intersubjective ways of being,” (2013:xii). So drawing on this idea of lifeworlds, in the second part of the book, I enter into this cottage industry of forgiveness work to better understand how the various actors involved in trying to get victims’ families to forgive interact with one another and how some victims’ families (as many as two-thirds) come to the decision to forgo retribution.

As your research took you deep into the world of the families of victims of murder, how did you manage to cope with the suffering they described? How has the work changed you?

I tried not to make the story about me or anything that I did or felt. I tried to live with and in the pain or anxiety or whatever else it was that my interlocutors felt. I could never come close, but my goal in writing their stories was to do justice to them, their feelings, their unthinkable loss, and the inconceivable decision to determine the fate of the perpetrator.

I would like to think that this work changed me for the better. It is hard not to be changed by the overwhelming emotions expressed by people these positions and to feel humbled by the capacity of some to forgive the most grievous of human transgressions – murder. Indeed, so much of the work of forgiveness involves mustering what my interlocutors called “the feeling of forgiveness.” Many of the relationships I made during my research on this topic became quite deep and close, I think, partly because of the issue of forgiveness. I felt I needed to be accountable to the people who let me into their lives at such a sensitive and deeply painful juncture. These relationships were built upon the foundations of their forbearance and I would like to think that this is something that I have learned from them.

How did you and your research evolve as you progressed through the project?

Initially I thought that this project was going to be based solely on texts: legal codes, treatises, newspapers, magazine articles, and so on. I did not expect (and was very surprised) to have gained access to sit in on murder cases in Tehran’s provincial criminal courts. My research at this time coincided with the finalization of the criminal code and code of criminal procedure since the start of its overhaul after the revolution. At times, I was literally learning the new laws alongside the judges and lawyers. One significant provision, I learned, was that the duty to encourage forbearance was affirmed in the code of criminal procedure and assigned to all judicial officials involved in the case.

I also did not expect to gain up-close access to the years-long deliberations by families of victims. As one can imagine, the decision to forgo retribution for the murder of a loved one can take many, many years. Over the years of conducting such research, I developed many relationships and moved through these processes with people, whether it was the family members, themselves, trying to arrive at forbearance, or judges, lawyers, and social workers trying to persuade them. I had no expectation that I would be able to meet with victims’ families as they were in the throes of determining whether to let the murderer of their loved one live or die, to attend reconciliation meetings between victims and perpetrators and their families, or to partake in the trip made by an acting troupe to put on a play aiming to move an entire village to change their views about retaliation in order to encourage a family who lived there to feel comfortable forgoing retaliation. These experiences are part-and-parcel of the unexpected terrain of conducting fieldwork over a ten-year period on a subject.

What new avenues of research have opened to you through your work on forgiveness and forbearance in the Iranian justice system?

I maintain my interest in criminal law and procedures – their operations, effects, and implications in Iran. One area of research that did not fit into the book was an analysis of the many changes to the substantive criminal code and code of criminal procedure since 2012 and 2015, respectively. Many new provisions to the substantive code (expanded by a full one-third) have gone unnoticed and unstudied. Many of these allow for lesser and substitute punishments. I hope to continue writing about these.

However, the larger project that has grown out of my broad interest in criminal law is one that examines the effects of international criminal laws – in the form of sanctions – on Iran and Iranian people, in particular. Since 2019, I have been learning about the effects of international sanctions on Iranians and hope to explore further the depths of these effects. These laws of sanctions emerge from the wider attempts by the international community to effectuate a comprehensive body of international criminal law. Sanctions, codified in the United Nations Charter, purport to offer a form of punishment in lieu of war. The problem is that many of the people living in sanctioned countries bear the brunt of the sanctions and experience them as a sort of collective punishment or war by other means. While we can find many studies on the politics or policies of sanctions, my interest, as an anthropologist, is to get into the minutiae of this experience and to understand how it changes peoples’ ideas about their very lives, their identities, and the possibilities for their future.

Thank you for this opportunity to write about my work!



Jackson, Michael. 2013. Lifeworlds: Essays in Existential Anthropology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Koenig, T. and M. Rustad. 1998. “‘Crimtorts’ as Corporate Just Deserts.” University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform 31:289–352.

Osanloo, Arzoo. 2006. “The Measure of Mercy: Islamic Justice, Sovereign Power, and Human Rights in Iran.” Cultural Anthropology 21.4: 570-602.


Pablo Jairo Tutillo Maldonado Recognized for Outstanding Service by the U.S. Department of State

Pablo Jairo Tutillo Maldonado, a 2019 graduate of the Middle East Studies M.A. program and former Middle East Center FLAS recipient, was recently awarded the Superior Honor Award from the U.S. Mission, Liberia, which recognizes sustained and selfless service to U.S. citizens abroad and the Embassy community in Monrovia. The Chief of Mission, Ambassador Michael A. McCarthy, conferred the award on Pablo at the U.S. Mission in Liberia.

Pablo Jairo Tutillo Maldonado in Liberia

 Pablo joined the US Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer in 2019 and was immediately assigned to Monrovia, Liberia where he spent almost two years as a Consular Officer adjudicating visas and providing assistance to U.S. citizens in the country. In the short note below, Pablo writes of his experiences in his first diplomatic posting.

Serving in Liberia has been a unique experience given the bond that has historically existed with the United States. Despite having been through civil wars and the Ebola epidemic, Liberia has stood strong and resilient. In Monrovia, I love going for walks and enjoying the warm weather. I had the chance to visit Liberia’s National Museum and got a glimpse of the country’s cultural, political, and social history.  I have also enjoyed trying some local dishes like cassava, fried beans, and grilled fish—-those are my favorites.

Besides Monrovia, I’ve been able to visit various small towns and cities including Buchanan, Robertsport, Gbarnga, Ganta and Yekepa. Liberia is a beautiful country, rich in natural landscapes and welcoming people.

The COVID-19 pandemic placed us in extraordinary circumstances. When the pandemic hit West Africa in March 2020, the country’s airport closed and I volunteered to stay with my boss, the two of us being the only two consular officers at post. Along with a dynamic team of colleagues, we were able to evacuate approximately 1,000 U.S. citizens from Liberia.

Serving the people of the United States overseas has been one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences and I am very honored for having the opportunity to do so.

— Pablo Jairo Tutillo, writing from Monrovia, Liberia. August 2021



Undergraduate Awardees

Brynna Kilcline

Brynna Kilcline (Arabic)

Brynna Kilcline is majoring in Linguistics and minoring in Informatics. Her research interests are focused on examining the differences and commonalities between Indo-European languages and Afro-Asiatic languages. After completing her undergraduate work, she intends to pursue a master’s degree in computational linguistics and ultimately aims for a career as an analyst, diplomat, or instructor.

Juliette Lanser

Juliette Lanser (Arabic)
Linguistics Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies and Near Eastern Languages and Civilization

 Juliette Lanser is a double major in the Jackson School and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. Her academic interest is in refugee studies and human rights in the Middle East. She is already working with Syrian refugees through the non-profit Paper Airplanes where she is helping refugees find their own voices and realize their goals through English-language tutoring. She plans a career in the fields of counseling and humanitarian work hoping to collaborate with refugees to dismantle the stigma surrounding the label.

Lucida Olson

Lucida Olson (Arabic)
Near Eastern Languages and Civilization

Lucida Olson is majoring in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. She enjoys learning languages and has achieved advanced fluency in French. Lucida is interested in the ethnographic studies of displacement and has written on the environmental impacts of the Syrian Civil War. She is considering the possibilities of working in humanitarian aid and with refugees from the Middle East. Currently, she is participating as a transcriber with the Svoboda Diaries Project through the NELC department.

Laila Salah

Laila Salah (Arabic)
Near Eastern Languages & Civilization and Accounting

Laila Salah is a double major in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization and Accounting and is also pursuing a minor in Entrepreneurship. She is interested in Arab identity in the Middle East, specifically politically, geographically, economically, and culturally. Laila will use her studies to pursue her dream of working in business diplomacy in international firms specially in the Middle East.

Isabella Shaquer

Isabella Shaquer (Turkish)

Isabella Shaquer is majoring in Neuroscience with a specialization in Behavioral Neuroscience. She is currently interning on a project collecting oral histories of people from Turkey who have immigrated to the Pacific Northwest. Isabella aims to continue her study of Turkish and to gain a deeper understanding of Turkish culture as she pursues a career in the research of human behavior.

Shana Sourish

Shana Sourish (Arabic)

Shana Sourish is majoring Biochemistry with a minor in Diversity. Her research interests focus on how drugs work and interact with the complexities of the human body. She is dedicated to promoting equity in the healthcare field and specifically aims to advocate for refugees in the US healthcare system. After graduation, she will continue her academic career in pursuit of a doctorate in pharmacy.

Graduate Awardees

Sophie Ossorio

Sophie Ossorio (Persian)
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies

Sophie Ossorio is pursuing a master’s degree in the Jackson School of International Studies. Her primary academic interests include the study of political Islams; political and religious networks between Iraq, Syria and Iran; and Islamic legal systems. She is especially interested in transnational influences between Iran and the Arab World. She is the secretary of the UW chapter of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management. After graduation, she aims to be a Middle East political analyst.

Cara Reed-Ferrara

Cara Reed-Ferrara (Persian)
Near Eastern Languages and Civilization

Cara Reed-Ferrara is pursuing a M.A. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. Cara enters the program already holding a M.S. in Media from Indiana University-Bloomington with a concentration in design and production, as well as a focus on Persian language studies. They aim to explore new research at the intersection of art and literature and Middle Eastern studies in order to share the power of stories with wider audiences through a position in academia.

Jack Robinson

Jack Robinson (Arabic)
Near Eastern Languages and Civilization

Jack Robinson is pursuing his master’s degree in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. As an undergraduate, he used his Arabic skills to transcribe, translate, and present the stories of immigrants from Sudan. The insights gained from that experience inspired him to employ his Arabic training to advocate for immigrants in a system where they may not be heard. Jack aims to go on to law school and to focus on immigration and refugee law.

Munteha Shukralla

Munteha Shukralla (Arabic)
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies

Munteha Shukralla is pursuing her master’s degree in the Jackson School of International Studies. With extensive experience leading or participating in Track II diplomacy engagements in the Middle East, she has engaged with a wide network of stakeholders in Israel, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon in the design of these delegations. Her graduate research will include a comparative analysis of contemporary policies and strategies towards Islam and humanitarianism. She intends to pursue a career the Foreign Service arena.

Seth Thomas

Seth Thomas (Arabic)
School of Social Work

Seth Thomas is pursuing his M.S.W. in the School of Social Work. Through his graduate study and work experience, he is building a comprehensive understanding of views of mental health among Arabic-speaking populations. Currently, Seth is applying his language and social work skills as a case manager at Muslim Housing Services. In September, he will begin his clinical senior practicum with Refugees Northwest, where he will be providing counseling in Arabic primarily with Iraqi refugees. To help prepare, Seth used a summer FLAS to study Iraqi Arabic and mental health in Arabic. He aims to work in both the US and the Middle East to enhance cross-cultural dialogue surrounding mental health, and to help build mental health, and to help build more equitable and abundant services.



10/25/2021: Imagining Afghanistan: 20 Years after Intervention,  12:30-1:45 p.m., Zoom registration required. Nivi Manchanda, Senior Lecturer, Queen Mary University of London, School of Politics and International Relations. Part of the 2021-22 Voices in the Middle East Studies series.

11/4/2021: “Afghanistan and Its Regional Relationships | A Round Table Discussion,” 6:00-8:00 p.m., Zoom registration required. Presenters: Salar Abdoh, Professor, English, City College of New York at the City University of New York; Reşat Kasaba, Anne H.H. and Kenneth B. Pyle Professor in American Foreign Policy, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington; Cabeiri Robinson, Associate Professor, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington; Arzoo Osanloo (Moderator), Professor, Law, Society and Justice, University of Washington

11/15/2021: “Citizen-Enemies: Palestinian Citizens and Military Courts in Israel/Palestine,”  12:30-1:45 p.m., Zoom registration required. Smadar Ben-Natan, Benaroya Postdoctoral Fellow in Israel Studies, Stroum Center, University of Washington; Israeli human rights lawyer. Part of the 2021-22 Voices in the Middle East Studies series.

1/31/2022: “Nation-Making on the Blackboard: The Politics of Education in Republican Turkey,” 12:30-1:45 p.m., Zoom registration required. Asli Cansunar, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Washington. Part of the 2021-22 Voices in Middle East Studies series.

2/28/2022: “Memory and Memorialization: Forgetting the History of Enslavement in Iran,” 12:30-1:45 p.m., Zoom registration required. Beeta Baghoolizadeh, Assistant Professor, History, Bucknell University. Part of the 2021-22 Voices in the Middle East Studies series.

4/18/2022: Human Shields in the Middle East: What Do They Teach Us? 12:30-1:45 p.m., Zoom registration required. Neve Gordon, Professor of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, School of Law, Queen Mary University of London. Part of the 2021-22 Voices in the Middle East Studies series.

5/16/2022: “A Terrorist Ambulance: War, Health, and Humanitarianism in the Middle East,” 12:30-1:45 p.m., Zoom registration required. Can Açiksöz, Assistant Professor, Anthropology, UCLA. Part of the 2021-22 Voices in Middle East Studies series.



2022-23 Foreign Area and Languages (FLAS) Competition Opens November 1, 2021


Middle East Center FLAS Fellowships support foreign language acquisition and the development of Middle East area expertise. Undergraduate, graduate, and professional students who are US citizens or permanent residents are eligible. Students from all departments are encouraged to apply.

Contingent upon federal funding:

AY Undergraduate: $10,000 tuition | $5,000 stipend
AY Graduate & Professional: $18,000 tuition | $20,000 stipend
Summer (All levels): $5,000 tuition | $2,500 stipend

Questions? Contact

To join the FLAS mailing list for dates of information sessions, application tips, FAQ, click here.


For full details and application form, click here.