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Speaker Biographies

Panel One: Islam, Politics and Democracy

Tamara Sonn is the Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Professor in the History of Islam at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University.  Sonn was previously Kenan Professor of Religion and Professor of Humanities at William and Mary. She has a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Santa Clara, an M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto, and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

She has published numerous books, including Interpreting Islam:  Bandali Jawzi's Islamic Intellectual History; Comparing Religions through Law:  Judaism and Islam; Islam:  A Brief History; The Sage Handbook of Islamic Studies; and, 50 Myths about Religions.

She has also published over 100 chapters and articles, and her works have been translated into Arabic, Bengali, Portuguese, and Russian.  She has lectured in North America, Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.  Her research has been supported by the American Council of Learned Societies, Fulbright, and the U.S. Department of State, among others.

She is senior editor of Oxford Islamic Studies Online, and of Oxford's Encyclopedia of the Islamic World, as well as Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion.  Sonn is also founding editor-in-chief of Oxford Bibliographies Online–Islamic Studies, and of Wiley-Blackwell's online journal of Religious Studies Religion Compass.

Panel Two: The Meaning of Nation and International Relations in the Middle East

Dr. Mehdi Noorbaksh is currently a Professor of International Affairs and Business at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology and teaching in the areas of international relations, management and global management, global health. Dr. Noorbaksh earned his Ph.D. in government and International Affairs from the University of Texas at Austin. He joined the Center for Middle East Studies at Harvard University as a Fellow for his Post-Doctoral studies and Research Scholarship in 1996. Dr. Noorbaksh’s most recent academic achievements include receiving his Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Health Administration (MHA) in 2006 from the University of Houston. Previous to these degrees, Dr. Noorbaksh earned his B.S. in electrical engineering at the University of Texas in 1979 and M.A. in political science from the University of Houston in 1986.

Dr. Noorbaksh specializes in International Politics and Business, Global Health, Islam, Middle East politics, and democratic movements and processes in the Middle East.

Dr. Noorbaksh has published extensively on the Middle East politics, through the Foreign Policy Association, Middle East Policy Journal, the International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, EurasiaCritics, and Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East and other forums. He has also contributed to Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam. He is currently working on a book, Democratic and Authoritarian Readings of Islam in Iran.

Marvin G. Weinbaum is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and served as analyst for Pakistan and Afghanistan in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research from 1999 to 2003. He is currently a scholar-in-residence and Director of the Pakistan Studies Center at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC. Professor Weinbaum has his doctorate from Columbia University in 1965, his MA from the University of Michigan in 1958, and his BA from Brooklyn College in 1957.  At the University of Illinois, Dr. Weinbaum served for fifteen years as the director of the Program in South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. 

Keynote Address

Gerald F. Seib is the Executive Washington Editor and Chief Commentator for the Wall Street Journal. 

Mr. Seib writes the weekly Capital Journal column for the Journal, which brings an insightful, predictive and original understanding to politics, national affairs and foreign policy. In addition, he writes other periodic analyses of national and international affairs for the newspaper and

He also oversees the Journal’s daily Washington newsletter, Capital Journal Daybreak, and produces daily video analyses of events in the nation’s capital.

Mr. Seib appears regularly on networks such as CBS, NBC, Fox News, CNN and the BBC as a commentator on Washington affairs. He also has responsibility for The Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls, and has moderated three presidential debates.

Prior to taking his current position, he served for 12 years as the Journal’s Washington bureau chief, and as the Journal’s deputy Washington bureau chief before that. He began writing his column in the spring of 1993.

Mr. Seib joined the Dallas bureau of the Journal as a reporter in 1978. He transferred to the Journal's Washington bureau in 1980 and covered the Pentagon and the State Department. In 1984, he and his wife, Journal reporter Barbara Rosewicz, were transferred to Cairo to cover the Middle East. They returned to the Washington bureau in 1987 where he has covered the White House and reported on diplomacy and foreign policy. In December 1992, he became a news editor responsible for the Journal's national political coverage from Washington and around the country.

In 1988, Mr. Seib won the Merriman Smith award, which honors coverage of the presidency under deadline, and the Aldo Beckman award for coverage of the White House and the presidency, and in 1990, he received the Gerald R. Ford Foundation prize for distinguished reporting on the presidency. In 1992, the Georgetown University Institute of Diplomacy awarded him the Weintal Prize for his coverage of the Gulf War. He received honorable mention in the Edwin Hood Prize for diplomatic reporting from the National Press Club in 1998. Mr. Seib was part of the team from the Journal that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in the “breaking news” category for its coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In 2004, the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas named Mr. Seib the winner of the 2005 William Allen White Foundation’s national citation. Past winners of this award include the Journal’s Vermont Royster, Walter Cronkite and Bob Woodward. In 2012 he won the Loeb lifetime achievement award for contributions to business and financial journalism, and in 2015 the American Academy of Diplomacy’s award for distinguished reporting and analysis of foreign affairs.

Mr. Seib earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas. He was also an intern in the Journal's Dallas bureau, editor of the university's newspaper, the Daily Kansan, and a Sears Foundation congressional intern in the office of U.S. Representative Gilles Long of Louisiana.

Panel Three: James Bill's Life and Legacy

Dr. John Duke Anthony is the Founding President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, and currently serves on the United States Department of State Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy and its subcommittee on Sanctions. Dr. Anthony is the only American to have been invited to each of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Ministerial and Heads of State Summits since the GCC’s inception in 1981. (The GCC is comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates). For the past 39 years, he has been a consultant and regular lecturer on the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf for the Departments of Defense and State.

A life member of the Council on Foreign Relations since 1986, Dr. Anthony has been a frequent participant in its study groups on issues relating to Syria, the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf regions, and the broader Arab and Islamic world.

Dr. Anthony is the author of three books, the editor of a fourth, and more than 175 articles, essays, and monographs dealing with America’s interests and involvement in the Arab countries, the Middle East, and the Islamic world.

Dr. Anthony holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and Middle East Studies from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C., where he held a National Defense in Foreign Language Scholarship for Arabic, was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship, and was appointed to SAIS' full time faculty in 1973 while still a student. He has been a Visiting and Adjunct Professor at the Defense Intelligence College, the Woodrow Wilson School of Government and Foreign Affairs at the University of Virginia, the Universities of Pennsylvania and Texas, the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, and a regular lecturer at the National War College.

Ambassador (Retired) John W. Limbert is Class of 1955 Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the United States. Naval Academy.  During a 34-year career in the Foreign Service, he served mostly in the Middle East and Islamic Africa, including postings in Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Algeria, Guinea, and Sudan.  He was ambassador to Mauritania (2000-03) and president of the American Foreign Service Association (2003-05).    He also served two tours in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.  In 2009-2010, while on leave of absence from the Naval Academy, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary – responsible for Iranian affairs -- in the State Department’s Near East bureau.

John Limbert is a native of Washington, D.C.  He received his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University, the last in History and Middle Eastern Studies.  Before joining the Foreign Service he taught in Iran as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kurdistan Province (1964-66) and as an instructor at Shiraz (then Pahlavi) University (1969-72).  He has written numerous articles and books on Middle Eastern subjects including Iran at War with History (Westview Press, 1987), Shiraz in the Age of Hafez (University of Washington Press, 2004), and Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling the Ghosts of History (U.S. Institute of Peace, 2009).

John Limbert holds the Department of State’s highest award – the Distinguished Service Award – and the department’s Award for Valor, which he received in 1981 after fourteen months as a hostage in Iran.  He is married to the former Parvaneh Tabibzadeh and has two children and four grandchildren.

Mowahid Hussain Shah is an Attorney-at-Law, author, and Member of the District of Columbia Bar, the Lahore High Court Bar, and the U.S. Supreme Court Bar.

Mowahid served as Of Counsel to former US Senator James Abourezk.  He was a Minister in the Punjab Cabinet in Lahore and Special Assistant to the Chief Minister of Punjab (2003-2007) and, during 2004, he served as Advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Mowahid’s book, “Will & Skill”, was launched in Islamabad, Lahore, and Washington, D.C.

John O. Voll is Professor Emeritus of Islamic History and past Associate Director of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. He received his M.A. degree in Middle Eastern Studies and his Ph.D. degree in History from Harvard and taught Middle Eastern and world history for thirty years at the University of New Hampshire before moving to Georgetown University.

He is a specialist in modern Islamic history and the author of Islam: Continuity and Change in the Modern World, co-editor of Asian Islam in the 21st Century, co-author of Islam and Democracy After The Arab Spring ( Oxford University Press, 2015), and author, co-author, or editor of ten other books as well as numerous articles.

He is currently Editor-in-chief of Oxford Bibliographies Online-Islam. He is a past president of the Middle East Studies Association and of the New England Historical Association, has served on the Boards of Directors of the American Council of Learned Societies, the Sudan Studies Association, the World History Association, and the New Hampshire Council on World Affairs, and was program chair for the 1999 annual meeting of the American Historical Association. He has lived in Sudan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Israel and done research on Islamic movements in sub-Saharan Africa and east and southeast Asia as well as in the Middle East.

John Alden Williams did his sophomore year at the American University of Beirut, his junior year at the University of Munich, and graduated from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.  He received a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship for doctoral studies at Princeton University, but spent time in research at the American University in Cairo on a Fulbright Grant.  He taught at the Institute of Islamic Studies of McGill University from 1959 to 1966, and moved to become head of the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the American University in Cairo, with a term as visiting Professor at the University of California, Berkeley in 1967, in the wake of the Israeli attack on Egypt in June, 1967. 

He came to William and Mary in 1988 from the University of Texas in Austin where for some time he also had tenure as well as at AUC, teaching Islamic History, History of Islamic Art, Religion, and Islamic Political Philosophy. He has lectured in almost every sector of the Islamic world. His nine books on it include The Word of Islam (U. of Texas Press, 1999) and Themes of Islamic Civilization (U of California Pres, 1971).   In 2002 he co-authored Roman Catholics and Shi'I Muslims (U. of North Carolina Press) with James A. Bill.