“Yet the fact remains that no one knows where the Middle East is, although many claim to know. Scholars and governments have produced reasoned definitions that are in hopeless disagreement. There is no accepted formula, and serious efforts to define the area vary by as much as three to four thousand miles east and west. There is not even an accepted core for the Middle East. “
1. There is no ‘Middle East.’
The ‘Middle East’ is actually a term imposed by British colonialists who defined the area from their European perspective, viewing the geographical area as being ‘East‘ of London, and in the ‘Middle‘ of the United Kingdom and India.
Today, the American perspective lumps the region into a generic geographical and cultural monolith, giving further weight to the historically erroneous term ‘Middle East.’
Those living in the ‘Middle East‘ do not define their area of the world by this term. Upon hearing the term, they’ll ask: “East of where?” or “Middle of what?”
2. There is no “Arab World.”
Throughout history, earlier versions of today’s terms ‘Arab world,’ and ‘Middle East‘ have been used interchangeably by colonizing Western powers, the belief being that those living in the ‘Middle East‘ are naturally Arab.
In fact, millions within the so-called ‘Arab world‘ do not consider themselves Arab.
3. There is no “Islamic World.”
Historically, Western conquerors used the term ‘Moors‘ to describe Muslims, and ‘Moorish” to identify Ottoman-controlled lands (i.e. “Moorish Spain“). Today, we use variations on the word ‘Islam‘ (i.e. “the Islamic Middle East“).
As well, we use the terms ‘Islamic world,’ and ‘Middle East‘ interchangeably, the Western belief being that those living in the ‘Middle East‘ are naturally Muslims practicing Islam.
In fact, there are millions of Arab and other nationalities of Christians, and followers of religious denominations outside of Islam living in the so-called ‘Islamic world‘ throughout the ‘Middle East.’
For example, Indonesia – not considered part of the Western definition of the ‘Arab‘ or ‘Islamic world‘, nor part of the ‘Middle East‘ – has the world’s largest Muslim population.
4. Medieval Europeans used the term ‘Moors‘ for all Arabs, Berbers, Black Africans, and anyone else of dark skin who did not practice Christianity. This term eventually came to represent all Muslims.
Just as today we use the term “Islamic terrorist” (our Western psyche automatically associating the word “terrorist” with Islam), medieval Westerners used the term “heathen Moors” (their medieval Western psyche automatically associating the word “heathen” with Islam).
To medieval Westerners, ‘heathens,’ were pagans – those without true religion. Heathens were seen as unenlightened, uncultured, uncivilized, and barbaric.
5. Persians are not Arabs.
Persian history dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, the land demarcated by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. We learn about this history as “the cradle of civilization” in grade school. But in the 6th century B.C., Persia ruled its own nation until the Sassanid Empire was conquered by an Arab invasion in 651 B.C. The Persian Zoroastrian religion was replaced by Islam, and Persia never again regained rule.
While both ethnic groups reside in what we call the ‘Middle East,’ Arabs speak Arabic, but Persians speak Persian (a.k.a. Farsi). Though the two languages share the same alphabet (with a few more characters/letters in Farsi), they are very different.
What do you think about the commonalities between perceptions of the medieval ‘Middle East‘ & today’s ‘Middle East?’