We are starting to hear of things like a “Middle Eastern” cuisine, people from the “Middle East” a “Middle Easterner” “Middle Eastern Societies” Middle East this Middle East That.
So what is the Middle East ?
Apparently there is not a consensus among social scientists on what does constitute the Middle East Some include Afghanistan in it other don’t. and we also have heard of “the Greater Middle East” initiative by George Bush which is a big farce just as its name.
Obviously The “Middle East” is supposed to be chunk of land and all what’s in it. Yet this is not a term coined by the inhabitants of those lands nor was it out of the academic and intellectual traditions of its people. It is an occidental term imposed on the region with its contexts and implicit interests.
Regardless of how conscious or unconscious the term is used it serves several functions
1- to imply that Israel is a natural member of this geographical location
2- to imply similarities between all these states that are not shared elsewhere.
3- it strips the region from its identity, Namely Islamic. And thus the term intrinsically fragments the Islamic world.
4- it Dissolves differences between Arab and non Arab states thus inherently down playing the distinction.
It Is Ironic that when we say the West we also imply Australia and New Zealand but also not Mexico (which is technically in the west). so the West is actually an identity not just a relative geographic location but when we say the Middle East?….. Nothing is implied but a geographical location (Arab states Plus Turkey Israel and Iran). This is at least the proposition in social sciences and namely Political Science with all of its branches.
The Term finds itself in the inherit difference in power relations. The West is in dominance and so it chooses the way in which it wants to coin the world around it and address peoples the way it wants to address them the way it wants to view them, in the way it wants them to view themselves. The term finds its way through academic imperialism which then finds its way in westernized and conforming academic institutions in the region. And that is why before the Gulf War ( Final Blow to Arab Nationalism) we never heard of Arabs saying the “Middle East” (ash-Sharq al Awsat). Similarly you don’t hear the term being used on Alajazeera ( more Arabist/Islam sympathetic) or perhaps rarely, unlike Alarabiyah (secular fundamentalists/ “liberalists”/westernized) which uses it frequently.
In other words
THERE IS NO MIDDLE EAST !