The term “Middle East” is highly widespread nowadays. It is often used both by political experts and the general audience. However, the term is ambiguous and controversial to some extent. The reason is that it is highly problematic to define it precisely due to the fact that it does not have precise geopolitical or other boundaries. The current paper examines this issue in regard to Amanat’s article. The relevant historical, social, cultural, and political factors will be specified. The statement that the term “Middle East” is a western construct will be evaluated. Moreover, the paper will help clarify the significance of the term’s origin. In general, the term reveals a set of complex relationships between the West and Eastern countries.
Amanat (2012) shows that the term “Middle East” has become highly popular worldwide in 1950s. In particular, Iran was considered as a part of the broader region. Moreover, OPEC and such wars as in Afghanistan and Persian Gulf are also closely associated with the region. Moreover, Amanat (2012) stresses that many events and organizations from the region are often presented in a negative context in the Western media (p. 1). The current usage of such depicts the Middle East as a location that includes a large territory “from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Morrocco” (Amanat, 2012, p. 1). However, such geographical division seems to be contradictory for several reasons.
First, it is difficult to determine the objective and specific indicators unifying all these countries. The regions of Western Asia and North Africa are very different. Their social, economic, and cultural characteristics do not allow determining the major underlying similarity. Second, it is possible to claim that Islam is a unifying element of all the given countries (Amanat, 2012, p. 1). However, such explanation does not explain the cultural diversity of these countries, as well as the origin of the term “Middle East”. For example, the term “Islamicate” could be much more reasonable in this context (Amanat, 2012, p. 1). Therefore, it seems that some hidden ideological principles were introduced in this context.
The representatives of the Western world were not interested in the uniting of countries in this region as they represented a considerable threat to Western interests. For this reason, selecting Islam as the underlying principle for defining the region was highly risky for Western experts. They tried to support the independent Ottoman, Safavid, Mughal, and Uzbel empires through introducing the new term (Amanat, 2012, p. 2). The author also demonstrates the dominant terms in the Islamic world. Their division of East and West was intrinsic as the West referred exclusively to North Africa. There were other terms for defining Europe, Russia, and other regions. It is one of the indicators that the Islamic world of that period (before the 20th century) was comparatively isolated from other regions.
Western nomenclature was interested in introducing such terms that corresponded to their strategic geopolitical interests. Therefore, the terms of the Near East and the Far East were adopted. However, such division did not allow reaching all objectives, as well. As a result, the new term “Middle East” was introduced for the region of North Africa and Western Asia. European powers were also interested in defining the former provinces of the Ottoman Empire in a new way (Amanat, 2012, p. 2). It could allow strengthening the European influence in thу region and preventing the restoring of the Ottoman Empire in a new form. Moreover, such countries as Iran and Egypt were also included in the new term to define the whole region and conceal the actual intentions of Western countries. Thus, the active introduction of the new term was the Western reaction to the emergence of numerous independent states in this region and the desire of Western countries to utilize such situation to their advantage.
Gradually, the term “Middle East” has become widespread in all parts of the world, including Asia, Africa, and Australia (Amanat, 2012, p. 3). The strategies used by Western experts proved to be successful because they appealed to the cosmographic division developed by the ancient Greeks. They differentiated between the Orient (East) and the Occident (West) (Amanat, 2012, p. 3). Therefore, their classification was familiar and clear to people. European countries used such tradition to promote the new term. It is evident that the term “Middle East” presupposes the Eurocentric vision as the region of North Africa and Western Asia is East in relation to Europe rather than any other regions of the world (Amanat, 2012, p. 3). Although this finding is evident, it seems that it is not comprehended by the majority of people using the given term on a daily basis.
The most characteristic feature in this context is that the term “Middle East” is more popular nowadays than more traditional ones, such as Near East and Far East. The terms are mostly used in archeology or history, while the Middle East is used for describing political and social events regularly. Thus, the initial Western objective to establish and maintain its global dominance with the help of the term was realized successfully. Amanat (2012) stresses that the Middle East is a geographically and culturally diverse region. For example, the Egyptian territory has much in common with Mediterranean countries, while Iran interacts closely with Central Asia (Amanat, 2012, p. 3). Such division would be more correct from a historical perspective. However, it would reflect the objective historical processes rather than the desired sphere of Western influence. Therefore, Western experts promoted the term “Middle East” and neglected other alternatives. The general population of countries in North Africa and Asia did not comprehend the hidden political meaning of the new term and used it actively.
The modern Middle East is characterized by substantial differences in relation to people’s perceptions of their history and background. The major differences are observed between Shi’i Iran and Sunni governments (Amanat, 2012, p. 4). In any case, the same historical events are interpreted differently. The countries support different ideologies and ideas. Therefore, the Middle East mostly refers not to the historical or political union but to the virtual space where a number of different countries and ideologies coexist. However, the current global political situation contributes to developing of some common perceptions by almost all countries of the Middle East. They tend to demonstrate highly negative perceptions of the United States and Israel (Amanat, 2012, p. 4). They disapprove the US attempts to establish the universal dominance in the global affairs, as well as the Israeli attempts to violate the rights of Arab countries and people. Although it is difficult to predict the future development of the situation, there is a possibility that the number of common aspects between these countries will increase. In such case, the Middle East may obtain the actual cultural and political meaning.
In general, the Western countries are successful in promoting the term. However, the current perception of the West by the majority of people from this region is negative. It means that the linguistic success does not necessarily lead to the corresponding political one. The provided analysis shows that it is possible to claim that the term “Middle East” is a Western construct. Its origin was not based on historical processes. The countries included in the Middle East have different cultures and ideologies. However, European experts were able to make the term widespread through modifying the traditional classification proposed by the ancient Greeks.
It is very important to analyze issues related to the origin of such terms because they allow understanding the major political processes and interests of all parties involved. In general, the term may be adopted in two different ways. The first one is the effect of objective historical, cultural, or political processes. It may reflect the significant common aspects for a number of countries in a given region. The second one is the artificial imposition of the term by some external parties. In this case, the term does not reflect any objective processes but rather demonstrates the desired geopolitical situation designed by some powerful parties. The term “Middle East” falls into the second category, and the general users should be aware of its hidden meaning.
It may be concluded that the term “Middle East” is difficult for analyzing because it refers to a number of countries that possess different political systems and cultures. Therefore, their inclusion in such description is the result of the political positioning developed by Western countries rather than independent historical or cultural processes. The term “Middle East” conceals the actual diversity of the region and does not allow examining different opinions and interpretations of their common history. Currently, the countries of the given region tend to develop some common positions regarding international problems. It is observed in their opposition to the policies of the United States and Israel. However, the hidden meaning of the term “Middle East” is often neglected even by the citizens of African and Asian countries. However, its use should be reconsidered as it is designed to demonstrate the European dominance in this region. The precise understanding of such attempts may allow improving the current system of global political affairs.