Middle East

What is the Middle East?

For most in the West, the Middle East is harder to define and perhaps easier to forget. Suffice it to say, for our purposes here, that it encompasses western Asia and Egypt.


Image courtesy of University of Texas Library

The Middle East proper is often considered with the geographically contiguous and ethno-religiously not dissimilar northern Africa (MENA):

MENA is the 7th of ten global kingdoms, as defined by the sustainability gurus at the Club of Rome in 1972.

But as with the shifting topography and complex inter-related demography, delimiting the Near and Far from the Middle may depend on the eye of the observer.

See The Middle East moves West and North, by Nick Danforth at The Atlantic (excerpt below):

“Middle East” is a Western term reflecting a Western perspective—India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, once observed that the region should really be called West Asia. Middle Easterners employed similar terminology based on their own perspectivehence Arabic words like Maghreb, meaning “West” and referring to the part of North Africa located to the west of most Arabic-speakers.

Over the past century, English terminology for the region has changed along with the geopolitical interests of British and American policymakers. In the 19th century, the British conceptually divided up what most of the world now considers the Middle East into the Near East (meaning the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean) and the Middle East (the region around Iran and the Persian Gulf, crucial for the defense of British-ruled India). The collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I made it easier for Europeans to consider as Western a large part of the former Near East, including the Balkans and sometimes Anatolia. It also brought much of the rest of the Near East under the same colonial authorities—the British—who were responsible for the Middle East. As a result, the term “Middle East” began to apply to colonies such as Palestine that were once considered in the Near East. Americans embraced this new usage of “Middle East” during World War II, and ran with it as the U.S. became politically involved in the region during the Cold War.

More recently, with the end of the Soviet Union, the term Middle East has again expanded in American usage to encompass Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asian countries, as those places seemed to slide into a kind of Islamically themed, strategically relevant chaos. Nowadays, the U.S. media seem to have arrived at a somewhat clear, if not always coherent, consensus roughly based on a tiered understanding of what is definitely the Middle East (dark green in the map above), more or less the Middle East (green) and maybe the Middle East (pale green).

See Middle East Going Nuke

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