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Middle East vs Arab World

February 24th, 2007 · 8 Comments · Uncategorized

They are not interchangeable. The Middle East is a loaded Eurocentric term.

The Middle East refers to a geographical point to the east of where I’m standing, but not as far away as the Far East. It is a term coined by the European explorers, and puts white Europeans at the centre of the world.

But more dangerously, the phrase normalises Israel’s position in the region. It creates facts on the ground.

Israel is an anomily in the objective sense. Let’s not get into the rights and wrongs of Israel’s existence or its behaviour. I am just talking about its place in the region.

First, let’s look at the Middle East – Israel sits comfortably here, because when we use the term ‘Middle East’, we’re looking at the region through Western eyes. We have Westernised the region, making room for Israel (a white, Judaeo-Christian, European state).

But where is Israel in the ‘Arab World’ – Israel stands out, it has squeezed itself in, and looks uncomfortable. It has nothing in common with these ‘Arabs’ all around it.

So by calling ourselves the Middle East (and even more worryingly, Middle Easterners), we are making room for Israel.

The compressed term MidEast is simply Orwellian New Speak – it encourages us to forget where the term came from, or to question its use. The Middle East – and even more so the ‘MidEast’ validates Israel’s right to exist.

George Orwell was right, language is where the battle for ideas is fought.


8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 norman // Feb 25, 2007 at 4.30 am

    Sasa, you will be happy to know that last year we had a table of midleastern Food in our multicultural day , this year it was Syrian table with Syrian food encluding Kubbe ,Ghrabe and hummus and Baklawa and Syrian flags ,yes Syrian flags in Jew Jersey /USA.

    The food was popular and I was proud .

  • 2 sasa // Feb 25, 2007 at 2.21 pm

    Norman, that’s really good to hear. Who was the Syrian Day for? Everyone in New Jersey?

  • 3 norman // Feb 26, 2007 at 3.45 am

    It was a multicultural day in our midlschool , i have two sons in midlschool , we do this activety every year , last year they put all the midleast togethr ,this year we represented Syria ,there was another table for Lebanon and other tableas with food from different parts of the world.

  • 4 Amre El-Abyad // Feb 26, 2007 at 2.41 pm

    well said sasa

  • 5 Wassim // Feb 27, 2007 at 12.42 pm

    Very interesting article Sasa. I’ve pondered that very thing sometimes. The problem is, what other name can we call it by? How can we highlight and snowball the use and delegitimise this term? Any ideas anyone?

  • 6 sasa // Feb 27, 2007 at 12.51 pm

    The Middle East is another way of denying our Arab character.

    I think the best way is to insist on calling it the Arab World even when others reply with ‘Middle East’…make a fuss when people call it the Middle East.

    Start with Arabs…if we use and legitimise this term, we have no hope of convincing anyone else.

    The best criticism I’ve heard of the term Arab World is that it delegitimises the role of Kurds, Armenians etc in the region.

    I don’t agree. Unlike Israelis, they have not squeezed Arabs out, or changed the shape of the region from outside. Instead, they have come to play a role in the region from the inside, and play a part in its exsisting structures. They are part of the Arab World. (Razan has written something very interesting along these lines, in her attempt to define Arabism.)

    It is illogical to say that naming a state (or in this case a region) after its majority people is racist – states across the world are named on that basis.

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  • 8 Jimi // Jun 19, 2012 at 3.24 am

    Forgive this overly late comment Sasa, just re-read this after your latest tweet…

    I’m in total agreement regarding the usage of Middle East. Just as it sounds equally derogatory using the term Oriental or Far East. We no longer reside in the 19th century…

    Having said that, I’m still not sure I’m comfortable with Arab World as the alternative? Doesn’t sound a bit grandiose?

    I personally prefer Arabia or Arabian Peninsula?

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