[CIA] author is alarmed at how widespread the usage of these imprecise terms among the intellectual circles were, including as part of titles for respected publications such as The Middle East Journal
Kindly note that readers are also referred to the article by Dr. Mohammad Ala (Recipient of the 2013 Grand Prix Film Italia Award) entitled:
The “Middle East”: A 20th Century Neologism Or Malapropisms?
In connection with below-linked article Farrokh & Vasseghi (2017) on the 20th century “invented term”—the Middle East—one may refer to a declassified, internal memo by the CIA’s Office of Basic and Geographic Intelligence (OBGI) to Deputy Director for Intelligence dated February 26, 1973 (the “CIA Memo”), in which the author, whose identity is redacted, noted his “strong aversion” to the use of the term “the Middle East.”
In the CIA Memo, the author claimed that the CIA tends to be “alert and responsive to official changes in the names of individual political entities.” However, when it comes to geographic terms, the CIA adheres “to usages that are imprecise, egocentric, and anachronistic.” One of the common ways in which the CIA ignores precise geographical names is by “the use of longitudinal compass directions as nouns” (emphasis in original).
The term “Middle East” was first invented by Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914). Mahan’s invention first appeared in the September 1902 issue of London’s monthly “National review” in an article entitled “The Persian Gulf and International Relations”. Specifically, Mahan wrote: “The Middle East, if I may adopt the term which I have not seen…”. The term – “Middle East” – when examined in cultural, anthropological and cultural terms makes very little sense. Iran and Turkey for example are not Arab countries and in fact share a long-standing Turco-Iranian or Persianate civilization distinct from the Arabo-Islamic dynamic. Instead, the Turks and Iranians have strong ties to the Caucasus and Central Asia (Image: Encyclopedia Brittanica).
According to the CIA Memo, terms such as “the Middle East” are, and always were, imprecise and egocentric given they reflect “the world as viewed from London and western Europe.” The author is alarmed at how widespread the usage of these imprecise terms among the intellectual circles were, including as part of titles for respected publications such as The Middle East Journal.
The author of the CIA Memo is concerned with how those in the field of intelligence defend the use of imprecise geographic terms by arguing that everyone knows to what location one is referring when, for example, one says, “the Middle East,” so why worry about it. Further, correcting such terms may cause confusion and inconvenience! The author responded to these officers by reminding them that as responsible leaders in the intelligence community, they “should always strive to be practitioners of precision” in written materials.
Mahan’s invented term “Middle East” was popularized by Sir Ignatius Valentine 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 Mahan’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 and economic interests. These same interests help promote the usage of terminology such as “Islamic arts and architecture” (Image: Ria Press).
As examples of changing how these officers think and write, the author of the CIA Memo encouraged them to substitute imprecise terms for accurate ones as listed in the chart below:
Imprecise and Improper Terms Accurate and Refined Terms
the Far East East Asia
the Middle East deadlock the Arab-Israeli deadlock
the industrial West the non-Communist industrial nations
the Near East the Eastern Mediterranean
the Middle East the Persian Gulf states
Mahan and Chirol’s invention (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 (1874-1965) became the head of the newly established “Middle East Department”. Churchill’s department redefined Mahan’s original “The Middle East” invention 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 Afghanistan were now excluded from London’s Middle East grouping. The decision to include non-Arab Iran as a member of the “Middle East” in 1942 was to rationalize the role of British political and Petroleum interests in the country (Image: Wikipedia).
Central Intelligence Agency. (1973, February 26). Toward improved precision in regional terminology (Approved for Release 2003/03/28: CIA-RPD80T01497R000100080031-9). McLean, VA: CIA Library.
Farrokh, K., & Vasseghi, S. (2017). The “Middle East”: An Invented Term from the 20th Century. Persian Heritage, 88, 12-14. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/35445793/Farrokh_K._and_Vasseghi_Sh._2017_._The_Middle_East_An_Invented_Term_from_the_20th_Century._Persian_Heritage_88_pp.12-14