What, exactly IS the Middle East?
Why is it in the news so often?
Why Do Americans bleed in and for it?
Why do so many of its own people bleed in it and for it?
What is its relationship with Islam? The Arabs?
What, even, IS Islam? And who ARE the Arabs?
History, geography, culture, religion, economy,…All of the above will be discussed here as we grapple with one of the world’s most complex, ancient and controversial regions.
Sunni/Shia. Muhammad and Islam; Iraq wars; Lebanon; ISIS; Women; Israel and Palestine, all will be covered in this coming series. Grab a Narghile and strong black coffee (hang up your cultural prejudices!) and read on….
I. The Making of the Middle East
Where did the term “Middle East” come from? Few people who live there (in the region which we will define more geographically in a moment) call themselves “Middle Easterners.” They are more likely to identify themselves as Syrian, Egyptian, Saudi, etc.
Briefly, then, the ME is a geo-political term coined by British policy makers in the nineteenth century. The “center” from which “East” is assumed, then, is London. The reason it is “middle” is that this distinguished it from the “Far” East, principally the British Empire’s major colony, India.
Definitions of what, exactly, this region included, have varied over time, as have its names — “Near East,” for instance often being interchangeable. From London’s point of view anything on the far side of the Mediterranean, especially tucked into the South Eastern corner, was the Middle East.
More recently, historians and wonks have used terms like MENA (Middle East and North Africa) as well as SW Asia, which allows us to lump in Turkey and Iran and a even a few Central Asian republics.