2015 Fall

Middle East Center Newsletter | Fall 2015


I am delighted to start this academic year as the new director of the Middle East Center (MEC). The MEC has a long history at the University of Washington and has been thriving under the direction of our outgoing director, Professor Ellis Goldberg. I hope to continue in his tradition of guiding the MEC towards being an open and inclusive resource for knowledge about the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), both at the University of Washington and throughout the Pacific Northwest. I feel very fortunate that the MEC’s remarkable associate director, Felicia Hecker, continues on as I find my way around.

This year, the MEC is excited to welcome seven new Masters students to our Middle East Studies program. Their interests, ranging from the Israel/Palestine issue to Turkish politics and refugee migration, attest to the breadth of our faculty’s research. Indeed this year we welcome our newest faculty member, Professor Daniel Sheffield (Harvard 2012), who is a historian of the Islamic world before 1850. He is currently completing a book manuscript entitled, Cosmopolitan Zarathustras: Religion, Translation, and Prophethood in Iran and South Asia. With the addition of Prof. Sheffield, the UW has added to its strengths in Middle East Studies as he joins other recent hires, Professors Arbella Bet-Shlimon (History), Samad Alavi (NELC), and Hamza Zafer (NELC), allowing the university to offer a broad range of teaching and scholarship on the MENA region.

The Center’s offerings are further enhanced by the presence of two new affiliate professors, Dr. Paula Holmes-Eber and Dr. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen. Dr. Holmes-Eber is an anthropologist who has worked with women in Tunisia. She has recently published an ethnography, based on eight years of fieldwork, on the Marine Corps’ cultural policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, Culture in Conflict: Irregular Warfare, Culture Policy and the Marine Corps (Stanford University Press 2014). She will be offering a course in the winter term, Women and War in the Middle East. Dr. Coates Ulrichsen is a world renowned expert on the political, economic, and security trends in the Persian Gulf. He has published numerous books, most recently, Qatar and the Arab Spring (Oxford 2014). Dr. Coates Ulrichsen will also be teaching a course in the winter term, Economic and Business Trends in the Middle East.

As in previous years, the Center continues to offer a range of public events. Some highlights include an evening roundtable on the Persian Gulf on November 12th, which will feature some of our newest faculty members. Also, continuing our series highlighting new faculty research, we will offer our Voices in the Middle East brown bag lunches throughout the academic year. Please join us for these and other events!

-Arzoo Osanloo, Director, Middle East Studies Center


Hussein Elkhafaifi Conducts Arabic Listening Comprehension Workshop for Instructors from a Two-State Area

Associate Professor Hussein Elkhafaifi, Director of Arabic Studies, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, conducted a workshop titled “Listening Comprehension in Arabic: Teaching Techniques and Learning Strategies” for university and community college instructors from Washington and Oregon on September 10, 2015. Professor Elkhafaifi is a leader in the development of Arabic proficiency teaching and training methodology.

The workshop discussed the often overlooked modality of “listening.” Techniques were offered to help teachers approach listening texts. Participants were given strategies to help learners understand the listening process and how to cope with the uncertainties associated with listening. The impact of the workshop on instructors was significant with one participant writing, “Dr. Elkhafaifi is amazing…. He shared years of experience with us, clarified a very difficult skill to teach.”

The workshop was funded by the Middle East Center’s U.S. Department of Education, National Resource Center grant.

Tovi Romano, Modern Hebrew Instructor, Reflects on Attending Spoken Israeli Hebrew Workshop at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem hosts a workshop annually open to a small number of university instructors of Hebrew language, chosen from among applicants from all over the world. This past summer, Tovi Romano, the Herbert I. Rosen Lecturer in Modern Hebrew, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, attended the workshop with support from the Middle East Center. She shares some of what she learned from the distinguished scholars participating in the research, revival, and documentation of the Hebrew language.

Hebrew is considered the only language ever to be revived. Almost two millennia passed before the Jewish people started using their language again as a living spoken language. How did it happen? Since Hebrew was a dead language, used for centuries mainly in sacred practice (i.e., prayers, rituals and Torah studies), by the 18th century, Hebrew vocabulary was insufficient for daily communication. Modern Hebrew writers faced challenges expressing new world ideas when words did not yet exist. From the start, these modern scholars and writers were inclined to keep the “purity” of the language and to refrain from using foreign words. Thus, when they began to translate and write secular texts, in order to describe a new object or concept, instead of using foreign languages, they used ancient Hebrew resources (the Tanah or Mishnah). For example, glasses were called “houses of eyes,” passport was a “travel certificate” and a giraffe was a “camel-tiger.” Later, as the revivers made up new Hebrew words, they based their choices mainly on ancient roots and patterns.

The revival of Hebrew is attributed to Eliezer Ben Yehuda (1858-1922), who not only invented new words, but also raised the first Hebrew native speaking family in Jerusalem. Ben Yehuda’s personal life and his fight for the revival of spoken Hebrew are both fascinating stories. One of the highlights of the workshop, and an emotional experience for me, was the visit to the Academy for Hebrew Language, where we saw some artifacts that belonged to Ben Yehuda. Among those artifacts were Ben Yehuda’s work desk (he used to stand while working at night in order to stay awake), his book collection and some of his hand-written notes with new words.

Ironically, while Modern Hebrew is not even a century old, its “purity” is being compromised by the influence of foreign languages such as English. Today, when you read a newspaper article or listen to popular TV shows or street conversations, you can recognize countless English (or English based) words and phrases. Although foreign languages influence is a common phenomenon in all living languages, the Academy of Hebrew Language is determined to fight it and to maintain the purity of the language. To achieve its goal, the Academy constantly tries to provide speakers with new Hebrew words, and even to involve the public in the process of creating them. The Academy is also becoming more lenient in its linguistic decisions and rulings, and finally, its members are more accessible to the public, offering on-line communication and services.

The historical process of the revival of spoken Hebrew was just “a drop in the ocean of topics” that were presented and discussed in the workshop. Among other activities, we observed classes, visited the National Library, discussed our challenges in teaching spoken Modern Hebrew and more.

2015-16 Middle East Center Scholarship Recipients

United States Department of Education Foreign Language & Area Studies Fellowships

Tessa Fager

TESSA FAGER(Arabic). I am a fourth-year Arabic student at the University of Washington. I was first introduced to Arabic in 2011 when I received a National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) scholarship to study Arabic in Marrakech, Morocco. This past school year I studied abroad in Amman, Jordan, where I attended Qasid Language Institute. In addition to language courses, I was able to volunteer with the local NGO Dar Al-Yasmin as an English teacher to Syrian refugees. After graduation, I plan to attend graduate school for a master’s degree in public policy. Eventually I hope to join the Foreign Service, where I can use my knowledge and familiarity with the Middle East and North Africa region for further cross-cultural understanding, to improve diplomatic relations and to partake on some level in international politics.

Erza Finney

EZRA FINNEY (Arabic). I am a second-year master’s student in the Jackson School’s Middle East program, studying Arabic. My research concerns transient populations in the southern Mediterranean, and the externalization of European borders to the Maghreb. In particular, I am interested in Tunisian civil society groups’ efforts to refocus migration policy and accords with the EU away from “security” and border enforcement, and towards protecting the rights of migrants and asylum seekers. I grew up in Boston, and received a BA in economics from Georgetown University in 2011. This summer, I expanded my knowledge of North African dialect while also taking Standard Arabic classes just outside of Tunis.

Jesse Lamp

JESSE LAMP (Hebrew). I am a second-year master’s student in the Jackson School’s Middle East Studies program. My regional focus is on Israel/ Palestine which I became interested in as an undergraduate and fell in love with after a six-week trip to Jordan and Israel for an intensive Hebrew course. Currently, I am designing a research project which will look at Sephardi Jews in the Seattle area, analyzing their emigration from the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the 20th century and how their traditions immigrated with them to Seattle and how those traditions have evolved over the past 100 years. From this research, I hope to see the local impact of Jewish immigration to Seattle, but also design a research template I can later adapt in my doctoral research to study community markets (Shouks) in Israel to map food and worker migration, analyze social construction and interaction, and understand overarching power dynamics affecting the Israel Palestine conflict.

Anna Learn

ANNA LEARN (Persian). I am going into my third year as an undergraduate, majoring in international studies and Near Eastern languages and civilizations, with a minor in Spanish. I chose to start studying Persian after I spent a summer waitressing at a restaurant where a number of Persian speakers worked. I loved the sound of the language as well as the little bits of Iranian culture that I heard about from my coworkers, and I decided I wanted to learn more. Ultimately I want to go to Iran and be able to converse with people in Persian and then write about my experiences. There seem to be a lot of negative representations of Iran and Iranian culture in U.S. media, and I want to better portray the complexities involved.

AKBAR RAHEL (Arabic). I am a doctoral student in the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Near and Middle East Studies. The FLAS fellowship in Arabic gives me an opportunity to dedicate more time to my research, which will include examining primary source material in Arabic and other languages.

Chetanya Robinson

CHETANYA ROBINSON (Arabic). I am a senior undergraduate working toward a double major in Journalism and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. From Seattle, I have always been interested in learning languages and in cultures around the world, particularly the Middle East. These twin interests came together when I started studying Arabic while still in high school. I was quickly hooked on the complex and fascinating language, with its logically structured grammatical system and sounds that exist in few or no other languages. This past summer I studied abroad on a FLAS fellowship in Jerusalem, to further my knowledge of the colloquial Palestinian dialect. I see many possibilities for using my degree in the Arabic language in the future, including language instruction, translation or international reporting– or all of the above.

Shelby Stoner

SHELBY STONER (Arabic). I am pursuing a law degree to become an expert in international transactions, arbitration and litigation with a deep understanding of cross-border commerce and finance, licensing and taxation. Ultimately, my goal is to work with the public and private sectors in the MENA region to promote a comprehensive framework of laws and policies that foster sustainable economic development.

Georgia Suter

GEORGIA SUTER (Arabic). I am interested in immigration and refugee issues within the Middle East, especially new research on culturally and environmentally sustainable alternatives to refugee camps. I am also interested in the social implications of forced migration and the way people cope with these stressors in the modern world. Within my Middle Eastern Studies program I will focus on immigration and refugee issues, conflict and violence and their effects on assimilation into a new environment, and how religion plays a role in immigration, assimilation and world view. My future plans include research within the Middle East with a focus on refugees, religion and the interplay among the natural environment, culture and human beings. I hope to continue my education in either socio-cultural anthropology, sustainable development or comparative religion.

Anna Zalenz

ANNA ZELENZ (Arabic). I am a second-year Ph.D. student in Political Science at the University of Washington. My graduate studies are focused primarily on political violence in the Middle East. I am particularly interested in examining the dynamics of non-state actors (insurgency/armed groups) during conflict. Currently, I am looking at when and why these groups are able to form strong alliances during war. Separately, I am also interested in the ways violence is “justified,” and the relationship between extreme violence and the rule of law.

Maurice & Lois Schwartz Middle East Studies Award

Tasha Duberstein

Tasha Duberstein. I received my B.A. in political science with a concentration in Middle East studies and minors in history and international relations from Simmons College. Upon completing my undergraduate studies in 2005, I was employed by the Consulate General of Israel to New England as the Political Affairs Director and head speechwriter. Currently, I serve as the Secretary on the Arab Center of Washington Board of Directors and the Publicity Chair for the organization’s signature event, the biennial Arab Festival at Seattle Center. The Maurice and Lois Schwartz Fellowship will allow me to pursue my graduate research on communal identity, power-sharing arrangements and the corporate consociational model in Lebanon. I intend to use the award to study Arabic intensively in the Middle East while conducting research on Lebanese electoral reform.

Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies Top Scholar Award

Melinda Cohoon

Melinda Cohoon. As a Jackson School Top Scholar and a Middle East Studies graduate student, I will be working on the topic of interwar Iraq. I am interested in addressing in my MA thesis how the British administered education for the Kurdish population of Iraq during the 1920s, by analyzing the Iraqi Administration reports and Arabic sources. The Top Scholar Award will allow me to advance my knowledge of the nascent Iraqi state, and it will also supplement my Arabic studies. Arabic language skills will give me the tools to analyze primary source documents in the language, which will be integral to the foundation of my current and future research. After completing an MA in Middle East Studies, I plan on applying to the Ph.D. program in the UW’s Department of History, with the goal of ultimately becoming a professor.


11/9/15: “Give It to Me Barney-Style: The UW Marine Corps’ Culture Training and the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq”

11/12/15: “The Persian Gulf, Past and Present”

11/20/15: “The Myth of the Simurgh: Image of Royal Power in the Arts and Ideology of the Iranian World”

12/7/15: “Does Demanding the Downfall of the Regime Make It So? Egypt and the Limits of Liberal and Post-Modern Political Theory”