2024 Spring

Middle East Center Newsletter


For those of us who study, teach about, and conduct research in the Middle East, 2023-4 has been an extremely tumultuous and traumatic year. To our many faculty members and students who have lost family, friends and colleagues as a result of the horrific war in Gaza, I extend my deepest sympathy and support. I would also like to thank all of our MEC faculty for your courage and professionalism as we have struggled together to navigate the many difficult and painful discussions on our campus together this year. It has been an honor to work with such an outstanding, caring and thoughtful community of scholars during such a stressful time.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the war in Gaza this year, the UW MEC community managed to quickly pull together and offer an amazing array of intellectual offerings for our students, our academic colleagues and the greater Seattle community. Although I do not have the space here to list all of MEC’s activities this past year, below are some of our more important contributions:

  1. War in the Middle East lecture series and course. Led by Professor Resat Kasaba, Director Danny Hoffman of the Jackson School of International Studies (and with support from the College of Arts and Sciences), this series of six lectures featured renowned scholars, and leading government experts on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Each lecture was attended by hundreds of students, faculty and members of the Seattle community and followed online via Livestream by thousands of others. If you missed the lectures, most are available on our website here. 
  2. Voices in the Middle East graduate seminar lecture series. MEC continued its time honored tradition of offering an in-depth series of graduate seminars for faculty and senior level students. In the fall we offered “Perspectives on Israel and Hamas” by Professor Alan Dowty. Dr. Smadar Ben-Natan provided our winter seminar on “Israel and Palestine in International law” and in the spring, Professor Steven Simon gave a graduate lecture on the “US in the Middle East.”
  3. Numerous co-sponsored lectures. In conjunction with JSIS, in the fall, Steven Simon offered a university wide lecture to an overflowing audience on his new book, The rise and fall of American ambition in the Middle East.Collaborating with our many partner programs including MELC, the Stroum Center, the South Asia Center, and the UW law school, MEC also supported a wide array of ongoing fascinating offerings on non-conflict related topics (from the joint MELC/MEC annual Ziadeh lecture on enslavement and agriculture in early Islamic lands; to Iranian poetry; to Ottoman women’s reproduction; to Jewish and Christian mosaics in Galilee; to law and the constitution in Afghanistan.
  4. Additional courses on Israel/Palestine and conflict/politics in the Middle East. The Jackson School of International Studies added not only the aforementioned course on the “War in the Middle East,” but also an undergraduate course and a separate graduate level seminar on “Israel/Palestine” taught by Dr. Smadar Ben-Natan. In addition, we were fortunate to have Professor Steven Simon as our new Professor of Practice, who offered courses on “The US in the Middle East,” “The Middle East in the Modern World” and the “US in the Modern World.” These courses were supplementary offering to our many ongoing Middle East language, history, politics, and culture courses offered by MELC (Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures); history; law, societies and justice; anthropology, political science and religion.
  5. Faculty-student Meet and Greet and a new welcoming space. Rarely before in the history of the Middle East Center, have MEC students and faculty been in greater need of a safe space to interact and feel welcome, regardless of their religious, ethnic or cultural identity. In the winter quarter, we held our annual Meet and Greet with a delicious offering of Middle Eastern food from Shwarma King. The event coincided with a giveaway of books from our former director, Jere Bacharach. In addition, Emma and I have worked hard to create a home for students in our small conference area, where we have provided an unlimited supply of tea and Middle Eastern treats for guests who stop by. On a very happy note, one of our Middle Eastern graduate students will be defending her Master’s thesis in our conference room in a couple of weeks—supplemented, of course, with tea, dates, almonds and cakes.
  6. Responding to the press and needs of local community colleges during the conflict in Gaza. As a consequence of the outbreak of conflict between Israel and Gaza/Palestine, MEC faced a nonstop stream of requests for interviews from local and national news outlets. Steven Simon led the charge with almost daily news interviews and editorials in the fall—a pattern that has only slightly slowed down over the year. MEC also received calls and emails from local colleges asking for faculty support and advice to help provide education on their campuses.
  7. Community outreach and Bridging Cultures. Last but not least, Dr. David Fenner continued an unbelievable schedule of lectures around the Seattle area, including MEC’s Bridging Cultures program: educating local schools and programs about Islam and how to address the needs of Muslim students and clients.

To all of you, who have supported the many activities of the Middle East Center over the past year, I offer my deepest thanks. It has been an extraordinarily difficult year. We could not have succeeded without you. It truly has been an honor to serve as the director for such an amazingly talented, passionate, and respectful community of faculty, staff and students.

Paula Holmes-Eber
Interim Director, Middle East Center
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies


The Center Welcomes Kara Atkinson, M.A. Student!

Kara Atkinson

Kara Atkinson

Kara Atkinson is a first year MA student at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. Her research interests include solidarity movements and constructive resistance in Israel-Palestine. She received her BA in History from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA. Kara also served in the United States Army as an Egyptian Arabic linguist from 2014-2019. She looks forward to attending the Hebrew Immersion Program at the Middlebury Language School this summer and continuing her studies next year. She is the Maurice and Lois Schwartz Graduate Fellow for 2024-2025. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and camping with her two golden retrievers.

Reşat Kasaba Receives Award for Contributions to Turkish Scholarship

Reşat Kasaba, professor and former director of the Jackson School, was recently awarded the 2024 High Achievement Award in Social Sciences from Kadir Has University in Istanbul. The theme of this year’s Kadir Has Awards ceremony, held March 22, was “100th Anniversary of the Turkish Republic and Atatürk.”

“All my research and writing focus[es] on Turkey, but I have done all of it outside the country,” Kasaba said. “For this reason, it is very meaningful to me that my work is recognized by a distinguished group of Turkish scholars who were serving on the selection committee for this prestigious award.”

From left to right: Nuri Has, Reşat Kasaba, and Sondan Durukanoğlu Feyiz.

Kasaba’s work currently focuses on the history of U.S. foreign policy in Turkey and the political consequences of rural-urban divide in modern Turkey.

“The ceremony in Istanbul gave me an opportunity to reflect on my academic life and, most significantly, to meet some of my former students who are now teaching in Turkey,” Kasaba said. 



Reading Across Borders by Aria Fani

Contrary to the presumption that literary nationalism in the Global South emerged through contact with Europe alone, Reading across Borders demonstrates how the cultural forms of Iran and Afghanistan as nation-states arose from their shared Persian heritage and cross-cultural exchange in the twentieth century. In this book, Aria Fani charts the individuals, institutions, and conversations that made this exchange possible, detailing the dynamic and interconnected ways Afghans and Iranians invented their modern selves through new ideas about literature.

Aria Fani

Aria Fani

Fani illustrates how voluntary and state-funded associations of readers helped formulate and propagate “literature” as a recognizable notion, adapting and changing Persian concepts to fit this modern idea. Focusing on early twentieth-century periodicals with readers in Afghan and Iranian cities and their diaspora, Fani exposes how nationalism intensified—rather than severed—cultural contact among two Persian-speaking societies amidst the diverging and competing demands of their respective nation-states. This interconnected history was ultimately forgotten, shaping many of the cultural disputes between Iran and Afghanistan today.

Zaatari: Culinary Traditions of the World’s Largest Syrian Refugee Camp by Karen Fisher

Karen E. Fisher

As an embedded field researcher with UNHCR Jordan, Fisher’s focus is supporting indigenous culture/identity, innovation, entrepreneurship and livelihoods against the effects of domicide. Comprising 130 recipes, stories and poetry, “Zaatari: Culinary Traditions of the World’s Largest Syrian Refugee Camp” was created over 6 years, co-designed with 2000+ refugees. Food photography was taken inside Zaatari Camp by Alex Lau (formerly of Bon Appetit) and background photography was by Syrians in camp. The royalties return to the people of Zaatari. Our book is the world’s first example of such a camp collective enterprise.

Strategic Water: Iraq and Security Planning in the Euphrates-Tigris Basin by Frederick Lorenz

Frederick (Rick) Lorenz

Frederick Lorenz

The issue of freshwater scarcity has always been of vital concern to humans, and today it is increasingly characterized as a strategic factor in security planning.  The United States has a long-term strategic interest in the Euphrates-Tigris Basin directly linked to the national interests of the riparian states, Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. The 2023 expanded second edition of Strategic Water: Iraq and Security Planning in the Euphrates-Tigris Basin updates analysis of the geopolitical situation and expands coverage of the aspirations of the Basin countries. New chapters include Geography, the Kurds and Water, as well as Data, Science and Diplomacy.  Finally, the book presents new conclusions and a proposed framework for action in the next ten to twenty years.

The author recently retired from the Jackson School of International Studies at UW after teaching Water and Security in the Middle East for eighteen years.  He is currently working on a number of projects for the Public International Law and Policy Group including the training of prosecutors for war crimes committed in Ukraine.


By Aniyah Mohammed | Seattle University

Aniyah Mohammed graduated from the University of Washington in 2020, studying Psychology, Communication, and Arabic. During her time at UW, she received two Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships from the Middle East Center and Global Studies Center. Two years after graduating, Aniyah was awarded an English Teaching Assistantship in the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, which brought her to the Kingdom of Bahrain. She is currently pursuing her Master of Education in School Counseling at Seattle University.

View from Aniyah's apartment

View from Aniyah’s apartment

Touching down in Bahrain in September 2022 was a surreal experience. As the plane descended, I marveled at the sight of the entire island stretched out beneath me, its coastline hugging the turquoise waters of the Persian Gulf. Despite being the smallest country in the Middle East, Bahrain had a rich culture and plenty of things to do, ensuring I never got bored.

During my time in Bahrain, I spent most of my time supporting seventy students in Year 0 of medical school at the Arabian Gulf University. My students were eighteen years old and from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman. I got along well with both my male and female students, helping them practice grammar, prepare for spelling tests, revise essays, make citations, work on presentations, practice speeches, and more. Every other week, I would sit with the class that had a lower level of English and be a TA for them. Even though I was primarily supporting English, I held math workshops too after seeing that my students were struggling in their math classes. Despite having zero medical background, I learned a lot alongside my students. They also taught me so much about their cultures, which they were incredibly proud of. My knowledge of Arabic, which I learned at UW, was helpful because my students felt closer to me knowing that I understood their language. Sometimes I could even translate words for them. However, I didn’t need to use Arabic much in my role—or even in the country as all the service workers knew English—which was a bit disappointing as I wanted to practice more.

As a Muslim, I found myself at ease in the Bahraini culture, as it closely aligned with my own values and beliefs. I was so delighted to order halal pepperoni pizza at the mall! Speaking of food, the cuisine in Bahrain was absolutely incredible, with dishes fromvarious cultures, including Thai, Indian, and Mexican. My favorite was “Al Baik,” a Saudi fast-food chicken brand. There were also many American brands, and I was surprised to find a “Seattle’s Best Coffee” in the mall!  At the many restaurants I would frequent, I would order shawarmas and hummus. I also enjoyed buying the sweetest sugary dates from the Bahraini Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning.

A beach in Bahrain

A beach in Bahrain

When I wasn’t working or indulging in the delicious food, one of my favorite things to do was visit the beaches and parks. I wouldeither visit local beaches or go to more touristy spots, depending on how far I decided to drive. I would buy a lemon-mint or pomegranate juice and sit by the waves reading Arabic children’s books. Going to the mall was also a popular activity. The malls in Bahrain are very big and a main attraction, and finding a parking spot on Thursday or Friday nights can be challenging. I also liked riding boats around the island for spectacular views of the skyscrapers.

Surrounded by water, it wasn’t very hard to find somewhere to live on the waterfront. I absolutely loved my apartment, which had great amenities, including a convenience store, multiple pools, a state-of-the-art gym, and was insanely affordable by Seattle standards. The first picture shows the view from my apartment. The dry and flat terrain of Bahrain contrasted greatly with the green, mountainous landscape of Seattle I was used to. The weather in Bahrain was also very different from Seattle’s. As someone who doesn’t enjoy rain, I was thrilled to find that I could count the number of times it rained during my stay on one hand! However, the locals had a different perspective—they would celebrate if three drops fell from the sky. Cloudy days were rare too. The weather was perfectly sunny and warm from mid-November to April, but after that, the heat became so intense that I wouldn’t advise going outside.

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity my Fulbright experience provided me, allowing for a profound cultural exchange in the Gulf region of the Middle East. Bahrain, a country often overlooked by many, truly deserves its spot on the map. Through my interactions with the students and the local community, I was able to challenge and reshape their perceptions of what it means to be and look American, fostering genuine and lasting connections along the way. As an aspiring school counselor, this experience has equipped me with the tools and understanding needed to be more culturally sensitive when working with Arab students.

I miss Bahrain and my sweet students dearly and hope to visit again in the near future!


The Middle East Center is pleased to introduce its new podcast series, now available on Soundcloud. We will be producing podcasts of our many events so that you can enjoy MEC lectures on the go. Don’t forget to follow and subscribe! You’ll never need to miss a Middle East Center talk again. Take a look at some of the most recent podcasts below.

War in the Middle East 2024 Lecture Series

Tuesday, Jan. 16 | On the Ground in Israel Now

Speakers: A pre-recorded conversation featuring Joel Migdal, Professor Emeritus, Jackson School of International Studies with Reşat Kasaba, Jackson School Professor of International Studies and Middle East expert. This will be followed by a live Q&A moderated by Alan Dowty, Affiliate Professor, Jewish Studies, University of Washington; Professor Emeritus, University of Notre Dame

Monday, Jan. 22 | Hope and Despair in Israel/Palestine

Speakers: Mira Sucharov (Carleton University) and Omar M. Dajani (University of the Pacific); Moderator: Liora Halperin (UW Jackson School)

Tuesday, Jan. 30 | The Question of Palestine and the Evolution of Solidarity and Resistance in the U.S.

Speaker: Karam Dana (UW Bothell)

Tuesday, Feb. 6 | The ‘New Elites’ of X: Identifying the Most Influential Accounts Engaged in Hamas/Israel Discourse

Speakers: Kate Starbird; Mert Bayar; Mike Caulfield (UW Center for an Informed Public)

Tuesday, Feb. 13 | Regional Repercussions of the War

Speaker: Marc Lynch (The George Washington University)

2023-24 Voices in the Middle East Lecture Series

Israel and Hamas in Perspective

How did the Arab-Israel conflict evolve into the current confrontation between Israel and the Hamas movement in Gaza? A look at the historical context and broader forces that have shaped the conflict over time.

Alan Dowty is Affiliate faculty member at the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies and is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of one of the leading textbooks on Israel and Palestine: Israel/Palestine. (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 4th edition, 2017) as well as numerous other books and publications on the subject.

Sponsored by the Middle East Center, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington. Co-sponsored by the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington and the Department for Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures, University of Washington.


By Paula Holmes-Eber | University of Washington

The Middle East Center is saying goodbye and thank you to several of its staff this year.

First and foremost, we would like to express our immense appreciation to Professor Arzoo Osanloo, who stepped down after eight years as director of the center, last summer. Arzoo had a great passion for working with our Middle East graduate students and was well loved by many of our graduates, not only from the Middle East MA program, but also from the NMES PhD program and the MELC language and culture MA program. She had the unenviable task of directing the Middle East Center during Covid; and responded by creating an amazing array of online guest lectures, conferences and programs for our faculty. This year she has been on a well deserved sabbatical.

Due to many happy and exciting new events for our tireless Outreach Coordinator, Emma Delapré, we also must say farewell and thank her for managing to keep MEC running during this chaotic year. Emma has done a fantastic job of promoting, planning and supporting our many events, including the “War in the Middle East” series. She has been the unsung hero behind the scenes: maintaining our website, producing our newsletter, supporting and responding to student, faculty and community requests, and last but not least, keeping the center open for visitors. Emma has just headed off to Paris where is working on a research project on laws regulating IVF access in France. She will then move on to law school in the fall. Many of us at JSIS, already miss her cheerful laughter and can-do attitude immensely. Bon voyage and bonne chance Emma!

Finally, my term as Interim Director ends this June. Although the war in Gaza has dominated this year, I am thankful for the support of so many great colleagues who pitched in to help the center succeed during this challenging time. I would especially like to express my appreciation for the advice and support of Naomi Sokoloff, Director of MELC, Mika Ahuvia, Director of the Stroum Center, and Danny Hoffman, Director of the Jackson School.