What and where is the Middle East?

I’ve started attending a super interesting online course entitled “The Emergence of the Modern Middle East” by professor Asher Susser of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern & African Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Today I watched the first couple of short lectures on what exactly is the Middle East, and which areas it includes. Here’s a couple of short notes on what I’ve just learnt:

  • it was Britain and France which “created” the current Middle East, drawing lines very arbitrarily, after WWII
  • it’s kind of funny that the Middle East is called so, not only in English, French or any other Western language (the name was created in 1902 by a foreigner anyway!) but in Arabic, Turkish, Jewish and Farsi as well!!
  • the strong influence of foreigners on the area is also clear as it uses a Gregorian calendar, like us Europeans, rather than its own Muslism and/or Jewish ones
  • the Middle East includes all Arabic-speaking countries (about 20) plus Iran, Israel and Turkey and is therefore a “patchwork of foreigners” and a group of state-nations rather than nation-states, meaning that national identity came after the creation of the states themselves (unlike, for example, Italy, Germany etc where common territory and language were the foundation of the state)
  • two very important reforms in the modern Middle East -which we consider to comprise the last 200 years or so- have been the Ottoman reform/ Tanzimat in mid 19th Century, and the Islamic reform in late 19th Century, which both meant tons of huuuuge changes and new ideas, including the concept of nationalism as the sovereignty of man, not of God; and a synthesis between Western science and philosophy and traditional Islamic identity
  • the Ottoman empire, which lasted for about 400 years and ended after WWI, was never seen as an invasive conqueror but rather as a legitimate Muslim authority, because more than language and ethnic background it was the common religious identity that matter (a bit like a faith-based European Union, I think!!)
  • it’s really quite inconvenient that France and Britain stepped in after that and everything, because that in turn meant undermining the positive unification wished for by Arab nationalists, which thus failed politically and ended up in conflict with Israel, especially in 1967, after which there was a radical Islamic revival and, in short, CHAOS ENSUED!!!!!!

The last paragraph is slightly over-dramatic and extremely confused/ing, I know. I need to keep studying 😉

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