The Middle East or West Asia, Which is the Correct Term?

Growing up in the “Middle East” often led me to think what does this term means and where did it originate from? I wondered because the word “middle” refer to the middle of something but what was it? We are in the middle of what? What is East?

Long time age we also used to hear similar terms like Near East and Far East but we do not hear those terms anymore, which ignited my thinking again. Then the question evolved: if Far and Near East are not being used anymore, why do we still use ‘Middle East’ why this term persists? It is also important to note that this term is not only used in politics but even in business. Most multinational companies have the term ‘Middle East’ inserted in their divisions that focus on this region.

For Example we hear the MENA office? What is MENA?

This term stands for Middle East and North Africa. OK We know Africa is a continent so North Africa refers to the countries covering the northern part and South Africa is the southern part … but East is not a continent so again – what is Middle East?

Due to the above, we have observed that in most regions and countries in the world the cardinal directions are often used – North, South, East, West and as such we hear North America and South America; we hear Asia-Pacific and South East Asia and even central Asia; we also hear about North and South Africa; Central and Southern Europe … but we do not hear West Asia, which the geographically proper term for the region so-called ‘Middle East’. Here we must say that the United Nations actually started to use the term West Asia but we are not sure if they use it across all of their literature.

So once again – why the Middle East? What “East” and and why we are in the “Middle” of the East?

The Asia to Europe LinkThe topic came back into my mind on a recent visit to Istanbul. One morning during that visit the thought came back and I was not able to chase it away? What is so special about today? My family and I were visiting Turkey and Istanbul and as I was standing on the shores of the Bosporus (on the European Side) and looking across to the Asian Side. In Istanbul we kept hearing about the Asian or European side not European and Middle Eastern Side. Hence my decision to write this evening about this topic.

Now why Middle East?

The origin of the name came from the British / English Empire. In those colonial days, there were:

  • India representing the “East” and possibly the “East” stretched to China in the eyes of the British Empire,
  • There was the Far East – referring to Japan, and other countries that we now call “Asia Pacific”, and of course
  • There was and still is the “Middle East” referring to “somewhere” along the way to the “East” and this term refers to Arab Countries in West Asia and in some references it includes Turkey, Iran, some countries in East Africa and may even stretch further.

Would the Arab Spring bring a change in terminology as a new awakening rejecting colonial times and terms? Would companies operating in the region show some respect to the region and refer to it in the proper geographic term? Personally, I am trying to use the term West Asia in everything I write, although old habits break hard and might rarely use the old term.

Saying good night from Istanbul, on the European Side, before we had back to West Asia.


About Mounir Ajam

Mounir Ajam is eager to awaken the giant of project management within individuals, organizations, and nations! He is an experienced executives with global experience working on projects from the United States to Japan and in between. He has been privileged to work on multiple small projects and mega projects. Mounir is an author, volunteer leader, speaker, consultant, executive coach, and entrepreneur who is open for further learning and sharing.
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8 Responses to The Middle East or West Asia, Which is the Correct Term?

  1. Raniah N says:

    It is very weird how many of the terms were imposed to our way of writing and saying. I personally never thought about it .. Why middle easy ?!
    But I like your reasoning .. I might actually follow ur terminology “West Asia” .
    Q: what was this area named historically before the British invasion ?!

    • Mounir Ajam says:

      I am not sure if their was a formal name for the whole region since it includes Iran, Turkey, and other countries. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine … these used to be called many names in history such as the Fertile Crescent, Greater Syria, Eastern Mediterranean … etc. The Middle East term came with the British Empire although the British did not occupy the whole area but they were present in Egypt, India …

  2. Marc says:

    Have you ever bought a world map in Australia? in Western Europe? in Russia? I did. I really like to visualize how people see our small world. I am French. It takes me a long time, before I understood that the way we represent the Earth in school is not universal.
    If “Near East” (Proche-Orient), “Middle-East” (Moyen-Orient), and “Far East” (Extreme-Orient) make sense from a Western European point of view, “West Asia” makes more sense for someone from Asia. But “Middle-East” and “West Asia” are relative to foreign countries for local people. My 2 cts…

    • Mounir Ajam says:

      Hello Marc
      Based on your point of view than maybe we should be labeling Eastern Europe as Near West, Central Europe as Middle West, and Western Europe as Far West … North America would be the End of the Earth? I am joking with you but the point is all places in the world are being referred to by their geographic location and not how the British Empire (that is long dead) or European see this region. The other point is that we rarely find reference anymore to Far East – why? Is it because those are strong and developed countries that would not allow “an old colonial reference”?

  3. N. says:

    You may find this article extremely interesting about your topic –>

    I am currently writing an argumentative paper about why ‘West Asia’ is a more appropriate terminology given the circumstances. Wish me luck.

  4. Pingback: One of the three almost devastating mistakes I made as an entrepreneur

  5. Pingback: 10 Entrepreneurship Myths and Thoughts from Entrepreneurship Summit

  6. Xerxes says:

    Just Asia or west Asia.Nothing else

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