I would first like to take this opportunity to introduce an
excellent article by Professor Pirouz Azadi from New York entitled:
Middle Eastern? You Are a Prime Suspect
Professor Azadi’s article is exemplary and highly recommended as it
encapsulates what people of 'Middle Eastern" descent are going
through these days. There is one tangential but very important point
to be made here however. What does the term "Middle Eastern"
The term - Middle East - when
examined in cultural, anthropological and cultural terms makes very
little sense. Allow me to state this bluntly: the construct "Middle
East" is a geopolitical invention - void of any scientific
basis. The term was first invented by American lecturer and Anglophile
Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914):
first invented the term 'Middle East' in the September 1902 issue
of London's monthly "National review" in
an article entitled "The Persian Gulf and International Relations"
in which he wrote: "The Middle
I may adopt the term which I have not seen…”
Mahon's term referred only to the Persian
Gulf region and Iran's southern
coastline. Mahon was
trying to find a way to remove the historical reference to the "Persian
Gulf" since this offended the geopolitical sensitivities
of the British imperial office. Translation: the British imperial
office has sought for ways for over 100 years to remove the legacy
of Persia in
the Persian Gulf. The very term 'Persian'
continues to elicit a knee-jerk reaction among the distinguished
petroleum and geopolitical barons who hold lucrative interests in
the (so-called) "Middle East"...
For Britain, Southern Persia and
the Islands close to the Persian coastline in particular, were viewed as geopolitically and militarily
important as Malta or Gibraltar for
the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean. Note that petroleum
was just beginning to gain importance to modernizing economies
and the Royal Navy just before World War One (1914-1918).
Mahon's invented term was popularized by Valentine
Ignatius Chirol (1852-1929), a journalist designated as "a
special correspondent from Tehran" by
The Times newspaper.
Chirol's seminal article "The Middle Eastern
Question" expanded Mahon's version
of the "Middle East" to now include "Persia, Iraq, the
east coast of Arabia, Afghanistan, and
Tibet". Surprised? Yes,
you read correctly -Tibet! The
term Middle East was (and is) a colonial construct used to
delineate British (and now West European and US) geopolitical
Mahon and Chirol's nomenclature (Middle
East) provided the geopolitical terminology required to rationally
organize the expansion of British political, military and economic
interests into the Persian Gulf region. After the First World War, Winston Churchill became
the head of the newly established "Middle East Department".
Churchill's department again
redefined "The Middle East"
to now include the Suez Canal, the
Sinai, the Arabian Peninsula, as
well as the newly created states of Iraq, Palestine, and
Trans-Jordan. Tibet and
now excluded from London's Middle
Churchill's removal of Afghanistan from
the 'Middle East' made perfect sense from a
British standpoint, as they have been keen to inculcate a sense
of 'separateness' in the Persian speaking Afghans with respect to
their Iranian brethren in Iran and Tajikestan. Even
the term 'Dari' may be at least partly be due or inspired by
the distinguished offices of British East India Company of
The decision to affirm non-Arab Iran as
a member of the Middle East in 1942 appears to have
been mainly as a means of rationalizing British interests in the
region in World War II, along with support for the Soviet
Union against Nazi Germany. This
also rationalized the role of British Petroleum in Iran.
The term "Arab Gulf"
was also invented to (a) pretend that Persia's legacy
does not exist in the Persian Gulf and
(b) to provide a rallying point for Arab nationalism against Iran. The
term "Arab Gulf"
was first (unsuccessfully) proposed in the 1930s to the British government
by Sir Charles Belgrave who was in Bahrain - and
then popularized by British Petroleum employee and MI6 agent Roderic
For further discussion of this topic, kindly click:
Pan-Arabism's Legacy of Confrontation with Iran
Turkey's status is particularly interesting in that
despite over 90 percent of her landmass being in Asia and
her population being predominantly Muslim, is currently being
supported by the United States and Britain to have its status
changed from that of a 'Middle Eastern' state to that
of a 'European' one.
The definition of the term Middle East is
defined by geopolitical strategists who reside outside of the so-called
East'. The term is certainly elastic is it not?
This elasticity is again in accordance with contemporary British and
Eurocentric geopolitical calculations.
So much for the 'origins' of the so-called 'Middle
East'. It is important for Iranians to understand
the overtly racist and geopolitical origins of this term.
It is comical to see gullible Arabs, Iranians and to a lesser extent
Turks (many who now wish to be 'European' actually) saying that they
are 'Middle Eastern'.
Many Arab scholars (e.g. Al-Ibrahim) do not see the term as valid
as it simplistically lumps Arabs with non-Arabs: they envision
an Arab 'Middle
East' without the non-Arab states of Iran, Israel and
scholars have noted that "the term Middle
East … tears up the Arab homeland as a distinct unit
since it has always included non-Arab states".
Simply put, scholars such as Dessouki and Mattar use a paradigm that
unifies the Arab speaking regions of North Africa, the
Fertile Crescent, the Arabian Peninsula as
well as the Arab regions of the Persian Gulf.
A final point is of interest. First, as we have seen, the term "Middle
East' is void of any geographical, linguistic or cultural validity.
This leads to the second point: the expression 'Looking Middle
Eastern' is itself a fraudulent term of mainly English and Western
European origin. In purely anthropological terms, this simply does
not make any scientific sense.
If the criterion is darker Caucasians, then one has to also identify
inhabitants of parts of the Balkans, Greece, Italy, Spain, Albania, the
Caucasus, Ukraine and
certain locales in Wales, England as
'Middle Eastern'. This is of course, nonsense. Conversely, blondism
does sometimes occur in Arab countries such as Syria (esp.
the Druze), Lebanon, Jordan (esp.
Arabs of Circassian descent), and Iraq. More
frequent cases are seen in Iran, itself of Indo-European origins,
which has a prevalence of blondism in regions to its north and west,
and even locales in its interior (the Iranian Plateau). Western Turkey also
exhibits incidences of blondism, as well as among its Kurds in
Eastern Anatolia. Northeast Iran is also home to a vibrant
Turcoman population, who at times physically resemble Far East Asian
It is interesting to investigate this point: why are westerners
so intent on grasping at a simplistic definition for the diverse peoples
and regions of the Arab World, Turkey and
Israelis are not usually classified as 'Middle Eastern' - yet many
of them certainly fit the stereotypical profile of the Hollywood inspired
'Middle Eastern appearance'. A comical situation did occur in which
Iranian born Israeli defense officer, Shaul Mofaz was
questioned by US immigration officers even as he was to have attended
a meeting with the neocons in an anti-Iran summit!
It would seem that simply being dark and swarthy
makes one a suspect! I know personally of Greeks, Italians and
Welsh people who have been questioned by US immigration officers
simply because of their 'Middle Eastern' appearance!'
Perhaps British actor Sean Connery (of James Bond 007 fame)
may himself become a suspect by US immigration authorities as his
swarthy and dark looks make him look somewhat 'Middle Eastern
In my humble opinion, the term 'Middle
East' is wholly inaccurate when describing Iranians - esp. given
Iran's very diverse, rich and multivaried cultural
and anthropological diversity. Mahon, Chirol
and Churchill were not considering scientific or historical factors
when they were seeking for ways to delineate British imperial interests.
Dr. Kaveh Farrokh