Cracking the Paradox
Whenever the expression “Middle East” is used, one conveys a hidden message knowingly or unknowingly.
If you believe in Palestine, you may need to think twice before using the term again.
GETTING LOST WITH TIME
In today’s world, some terminologies are misconstrued and used automatically due to their embedment in the subconscious, attributable to their incessant use with no forethought or rethought to the message silently communicated. Especially, when their descriptions and definitions alter with the times to suit the era we live in.
The “Middle East” is one such term.
What is the “Middle East”? How many countries make up the region?
Many believe they know the answer to these two simple questions but alas, they do not. No wonder! The term itself is unclear, and a terminology should be self-explanatory, and yet it remains widely (and blindly) used.
With the years, the “Middle East” has come to mean a sundry of definitions, descriptions and meanings giving way to much controversies, debate and uncertainties.
There are countries universally agreed upon constituting the region: Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, “Israel”, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, “the Palestinian Territories”, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab of Emirates and Yemen.
Others are debatable: North Africa, – including or excluding Sudan – Turkey, Cyprus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and/or Central Asia.
It all depends on whom you ask.
Consequently, it creates confusion in the minds of many.
A definite fact though is this: the “Middle East” is not synonymous with Arabs and Muslims so refraining from making this one crucial error is a step in the right direction.
A BRIEF ELUCIDATION
Although it is not precisely clear who is essentially responsible for the neologism “Middle East”, research revealed it originated at the end of the nineteenth century during the colonial European era (the British empire); a time when they “ruled” the world and thought they were the centre of it – hence the term Eurocentric – with a major superiority complex.
It is supposedly the region between the “Far East” (China) and the “Near East” (Turkey) – the parochial view of the British that is – and was first used by General Sir Thomas Edward Gordon, a British Officer, in 1900, and later “reinvented” by an American in 1902, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, in a piece entitled, The Persian Gulf and International Relations.
Simply, the “Middle East” breaks down to this ambiguity: the middle of the United Kingdom and India and east of London.
The coined, and rather inaccurate, expression is now engraved into the minds of many and interwoven into languages and common use.
Arabs, “Easterners” and Muslims – many who are suffering from a grave inferiority complex – and the world all over embraced the expression without a second thought.
Now, geographically and logically, the terminology is nonsensical and what it alludes to in these current times, many may reconsider using it in view of the Palestinian cause, one many deem worthy of advocacy.
The message behind the expression when stated (written or verbally) is either Palestine is nonexistent or is reduced to mere territories, no thanks to the late Yasser Arafat who signed the 1993 Oslo “Peace Accords”.
What was once Palestine is now “Israel” – a dictionary and world map should provide a glimpse of what Palestine has been reduced to. Thus, embedding credence to its insinuation and to the rights of the “Occident” over the rest of the world when words and phrases the “Occident” deemed appropriate are used.
AN INFERIORITY COMPLEX
Rather than using their own intellects and reclaiming what is theirs, Arabs and Muslims instead opt to blindly follow the “Occident” and sadly view themselves through its eyes.
This is a key problem indicative of why the Arab and most of the Muslim nations still lag in many areas; always waiting for others to solve their problems, come up with the solutions and “save” them.
Paradoxically, many Arabs and Muslims – Palestinians included residing in and out of Palestine – openly use a term for their own region(s) concocted by a “Westerner” as they criticise the ways of the “Occident”; they chant songs of support for Palestine whilst using the term “Middle East” and silently acquiescing its lack of place or recognition in the world.
For there to be hope for a promising future and a renaissance in both the Arab and Muslim nations, they need to be equipped apropos simple matters and knowledge, their own history and present, to prepare for their future.
We must remember, for a major change to happen, minor changes need to be in place, clearly defined and deeply and firmly rooted in our thoughts, words and deeds.
One place to start is being aware of the phrases, terminologies and words used, their derivatives and what they connote and denote to avoid the insidious slope into oblivion, as is the case with Palestine – and the continuous talk of making Jerusalem the capital of “Israel”.
We need to understand with cognisance and criticality what a phrase and terminology signify and their roots (“brainwash”, “bridge the gap”, “clash of civilisations”, “developed-developing-underdeveloped”, ethnic “cleansing”) and the etymology of words (compassion, desire, passion) before we habitually use them.
A terminology should be used when it is precisely defined, like Africa, America and Europe, – though many are unaware or forget Russia is part of Europe and the largest country too – free from various interpretations and connotations.
May be the time has come to use terms like the “Arab nations”, “Muslim nations”, “Muslim-populated countries”, etc.
Better still, create better terminologies that embrace clarity devoid of any myopic views instead of the “Occident’s” self-centred “Middle East”.
This way, the haze subsides, the meaning is patent and the message conveyed is unequivocal.
Did the Zionists have the legal or moral right to invade Arab Palestine, uproot its Arab citizens from their homes and seize all Arab property for themselves just based on the “religious” claim that their forefathers lived there thousands of years ago? Only a thousand years ago the Moors lived in Spain. Would this give the Moors of today the legal and moral right to invade the Iberian Peninsula, drive out its Spanish citizens, and then set up a new Moroccan nation . . . where Spain used to be, as the European Zionists have done to our Arab brothers and sisters in Palestine?Malcolm X رحمه الله