The Genesis of the Near and Middle East in the
NEAR EAST OR MIDDLE EAST maps were first drawn at the height of intense interest in what Karl Marx labeled “the Eternal Eastern Question.”1 It was the content of this question that defined the geography of this region that came to be known as the modern Middle East. Later attempts to give a consistent geographical or cultural definition to the term all followed major international developments or were made in anticipation of major geostrategic shifts, ultimately creating multiple “Middle Easts” that were based on different sets of criteria.2 Two such attempts in recent memory were the redrawing of the Middle East following the end of the Cold War and the Greater Middle East Partnership discussed in the G-8 summit in 2004.3
Despite staying at the center of international politics for more than a century, the region still has no standard textbook definition.4 In the popular imagination as well as academic studies, the Middle East is often conceived of as the locus of an international question rather than a geographically or culturally definable region. Except for the questions it posed, there is hardly any common element that defines the various “Middle Easts” constructed in the media, academic scholarship, and political agencies. As the nature and scope of the Middle Eastern Question change, so do the region’s boundaries. There has been no secular organizing principle to make the Middle East a meaningful region other than a historical memory built by the very term itself.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the term “the Eastern Question” was generically applied to almost all conflicts taking place in Eastern Europe, including those in Poland, Macedonia, and the Caucasus. Toward the late nineteenth century, however, within the context of a broader confrontation between