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.