A Review: Is There A Middle East? By Nikki R.

Franklyn L. Mollejon, 2009-44463

Middle East as a geographic entity refers to the area covering the lands around the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, extending from Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula and Iran and sometimes beyond. Thus, defined, it consisted of the states or territories of Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Palestine (now Israel), Jordan, Egypt, The Sudan, Libya, and the various states of Arabia proper (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, and the Trucial states, or Trucial Oman [now United Arab Emirates]. In addition, by geographic and topographic factors, Afghanistan and Pakistan are often considered to be part of this geographic entity2. It is a predominantly Muslim area characterized by its semi-arid and desert conditions where agriculture is largely dependent on irrigation and the prevalence of pastoral nomadism. The usage of Middle East as a geographic expression has accumulated an avalanche of polemics since its designation by Western geographers and historians prior to the World War II primarily because of its alleged Europocentrism. While it may seem that the term Middle East has already been adopted by the people of the region, it still remains unsettled as for some agencies and countries still do not employ the geographic term to refer to the region such as the United Nations which uses ‘West Asia’ and ‘Near East’ by United States State Department. Historical explorations into the nature and origin of this geographic categorization are paramount to justify the concept. N.R. Keddie’s Is There A Middle East that contains a plethora

Nikki R. Keddie is a professor of Eastern, Iranian, and women's history. She retired from the University of California, Los Angeles after 35 years of teaching. 2 Middle East. (2011). Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Student and Home Edition. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica.

economic and political harmony. as already noted above. By looking at its current orientations. She cites Turkey and Iran as an example whose cultural behaviour and foreign policies are sometimes characterized by hostilities. she argues that the nations of the Middle East actually exhibit more variety than unity especially after the Post World War I collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of secular nationalist governments. As she argues. While the religion Islam may be an element. Geographically.of essential historical information would be one of those successful scholarly attempts in elucidating the ever-been disputatious geographic concept of the ‘Middle East’. as already mentioned. There is also a cultural element. Historically. her article provides historical details of some countries in the region that question some of our assumptions about the Middle East. as a predominantly Muslim area does not entail cultural. Pitfalls of the Concept Middle East and the Case of Iran and the Ottoman Empire . Nonetheless. there are still factors that could bridge the region as a geographic unit. this does not suffice to categorize the countries in this region as one. the early Abbasids. and the Ottomans. the area very roughly coincides not only with the first wave of the Arab invasions. Having a very good and wide grasp of Iranian and ‘Middle-Eastern’ history. but as the birthplace of the three largest Muslim Empires – the Umayyads. as being part of the Islamic Civilization which is a necessary though not sufficient condition of being part of the Middle East. for it is actually variegated. it is a semi-arid area characterized by irrigation agriculture and the prevalence of pastoral nomadism. the region.

Social. Furthermore. would it be legitimate to say that Middle East forms a meaningful geographic unit for this period. X (1969). cultural and political atmosphere that was prevailing on this period. ‘Morocco and the Near East: Reflections on some basic differences’. very limited role for the central government. Europ. she argues that the actual borders of the great empires had more meaning than the Middle East as defined today. and a religious synthesis largely based on popular religion3. is to examine the case of Iran if it makes up part of a meaningful entity called the Middle East. and the Byzantine and Sassanian Empires would be more meaningful. she points out that it must be remembered that the term is a 19th century western artificial abstraction. which for many purposes may not be especially relevant. Another important historical truth that should be taken into account is that for Pre-Islamic times. She cites a scholarly work by Edmund Burke III which discusses how Morocco differs from the Ottoman empire economically and politically. pp.70-94 . She 3 Cited in the paper.Granting these positive points in favour of the concept of Middle East. she historically examines the economic. the term Middle East would be meaningless. Afghanistan and the Ottoman Empire. for her main purpose. absence of large areas of settled agriculture. She also adds that for Afghanistan. Vol.Archiv. While For the Islamic Period. and by this. And those other geographic entities such as Egypt and the Fertile Crescent. the Persian Empire. the Mediterranean lands. Keddie did not go further explaining the fundamental differences between Morocco. the Roman Empire. Edmund Burke. she proceeded to a deeper discussion of the pitfalls of the concept of Middle East. 1500-1917. As for the period c. the area of Hellenistic influences. as indicated in the article. which is similar to Morocco had the same system by which tribal politics was also more prevalent than bureaucratic structure. in the middle of the article. The argument is that Morocco in this period differed fundamentally from the Ottoman Empire by its tribal-based politics.

The possibility of direct ruling over a large and revenueproducing population is largely because of the prevalence of a settled agricultural population and the accessibility of the central portions of the empire. and most of all to the fact that change was forced upon the Ottomans and not . culturally and economically. the Ottomans can be characterized as superior organizers despite the large size of the Ottoman empire. tribal populations existed in the peripheral areas and even in Anatolia but it did not predominate unlike in Iran. Another fundamental difference that she discusses is the gap between the Ottoman and Iranian political and economic systems. partly to longer and greater Ottomans contact with the West. Iran exhibited more similarities with Morocco than it did the neighboring Ottoman Empire.points out its major differences from the Ottaman empire. politically. In its heavily tribal and fragmented politics. This doctrinal difference even resulted to the institution of hostile laws and policies towards each other that subsequently ended in long and indecisive wars which were also motivated by the desire to control rich territories lying in the borderlands of the two empires. While in contrast. Keddie points out that Iran’s major difference with the Ottomans was partly because of the lack of Persian centralized tradition for either army or bureaucracy. The Shi’ism of Iran and the Sunnism of Ottaman Empire could be one of those essential factors that made the two areas different from each other. and the presence of more powerful reformers in the Ottoman Empire. There existed a type of tribal feudalism which characterized the whole political and economic system of the country. Although. Iran has mountainous and arid topography which encouraged the expansion of tribal nomadism.

Keddie argues that the cause of this difference is not because of its conservative society. Her explanations and comparisons. cultural and religious differences make it difficult for us to regard Ottoman Empire and Iran as belonging to a single entity especially with the 20th century rise of secular nationalistic governments and the emergence of Islamic reformism which resulted to diverse political and religious orientations. Iran was in behind as there was no land law until the 1920s. it was markedly slower than in the Ottoman Empire. This was one of the challenges that confronted the Ottomans which led them to institute military and bureaucratic reforms. along with the rise of bourgeois society. as influenced by the Western capitalism marked its initial economic steps towards reformism. The Ottoman empire was always in menace to western expansionism during the 17th and 18th century and this necessitated them to create a modernized military force. It was harder for Western countries to reach Iran than the countries bordering on the Mediterranean. but more in the topography and location of Iran. have been largely limited only to Iran and the Ottoman . nevertheless. Conclusion It is undeniable that Keddie’s scholarly attempt to demystify and explicate the nature and origin of Middle East as a geographic expression and concept is successful. economic. centralized and construct a modernized bureaucracy. Feudal property rights and arbitrary ownership of lands continued at a time when in the Ottoman Empire and Egypt large owners were able to take advantage of the new laws to assert their and their families’ absolute claim to property. Apparently. In addition. which counts for something. the aforementioned major political. though she admitted. Iran’s entrance to the world market in the 19th century.upon the Persians.

What is also remarkable about Keddie’s article is that she disproves some of our basic historical assumption about the Middle East. there has always been vast diversity.Empire. . that we often equate it to the Arab World or the Muslim world. This might ineluctably result to interpretations that the two countries Ottoman Empire [now Turkey] and Iran have higher and more important historical factors than others to consider in justifying/repudiating Middle East as a geographic entity. even within the Islamic world. change and development. What we thought of Islam’s role in the Middle East as a bridge for cultural and political unity might not be true as it actually has produced elements that present these Islamic nations in the region more differences than similarities. She argues that although. Arab countries constitute large part of the region.

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