The crossroad of the World – Akshay Bhaskar

Before the onset of this article, I would like to state that the part of the world that we generally refer to as the ‘Middle East’ is not a right terminology for that part of the world. In fact, the correct term to use for the piece of land that is situated at the confluence of the civilizations of Asia, Europe and Africa is ‘Western Asia’, a term which is the official designation used by the United Nations. However, the terms ‘Middle East’, ‘Western Asia’, and ‘Levant’ (a smaller portion of Western Asia) will be used interchangeably.

The world that we currently see was named by Europeans and the description of Western Asia as Middle East is a Eurocentric and a thought that is not taken kindly because of the past political and religious differences between Europe and Western Asia (read: Crusades). Now that the power of the European nations has receded back within the confines of their own nations and with the rise of the idea of self determination, the nations of the world are once again discovering their identity and their cultural hegemony.

The position of the nations of Western Asia forms a very unique feature politically, geographically, socially, economically and culturally. If you pick up a map of the world and look at it, you will notice that it is literally the crossroad of the world. When our ancestors walked out of Africa, Levant was the part of the world they had crossed. It was here that they discovered wheat, a product that is now a staple diet in almost every country of the world. The Phoenicians formed their power base around the Levantine coast of the Mediterranean, the Persian Empire was a West Asian power and its furthest borders now mark the geographical description of the place, the fortifications of Constantinople are a tribute to the importance of the area and the architectural commonality is a tribute to the cultural hegemony of Western Asia by the Ottomans. Events of the Middle East are the cause of pivotal events in the history of the world and due to its location, it always shall be. The Europeans set out in search of sea routes east when the overland trade was threatened and thus emerged an era of colonial empires. Paper, a product so common in our lives was at one time, was a jealously guarded secret of the Chinese, but after the battle of Talas, the secret was out and the first paper mill outside China was established in Samarkand. Mathematical ideas from India were transported west by the people of Levant. Through the course of human civilization, the Middle East has always been a disperser of knowledge and in the meanwhile there has also been knowledge and wisdom which has risen from the deeply held religious beliefs of the people of the Middle East.

Inspite of all their achievements, advancements and contributions, Western Asia is only remembered for one particular commodity even though it has so much to offer. Since the era of combustion engine, Western Asia has never been so important as well as so difficult. The use of mechanical forces to power our modes of transport has revolutionized the world and ever since that time, Western Asia has not known the peace it had known all those centuries ago, but without getting into the topic of petroleum politics, Western Asian problems are more due to its ingrained ideology as much as it is due to external interference. Western Asia has always been in a state where it has been under authoritarian rule, be it under the Persians, or the Arabs, or the Ottomans or as it currently is, dictators. The people in Western Asia have not been directly influenced by the “Western Ideology” (air quoting is necessary at this point because liberty, equality and justice are human values and cannot be particularly characterized as evolving in one part of the world) rather, their ideology has grown parallel with the European ideology, but due to the still present mentality dating back to the time of Crusades, the Western Asian ideology has been preferred. However, the authoritarian rule of earlier Kings is different from that of current dictators because earlier it was tempered by the beliefs and religious convictions of the Kings rather than greed that is so vehemently visible in the current generation of dictators.

People of Western Asia have always been politically active and it was quite evident when the citizens of Iran caused the collapse of the regime of the Shah. The current Arab Spring cannot merely be seen as the birth of revolution in the Arab world, but it is the resurgence of revolutionary ideas of the people who had placed strongmen in positions of power but never got what was due to them. The rise of dictators in the Middle East was because people of the nations of the Middle East wanted to have the right to self rule rather than have puppet governments which were a product of western colonial and imperial ambitions. The Arab spring is not merely a revolution, but in a way, a re-revolution as opposed to a counter revolution. The dictators came to power with a promise which was denied to the people and now their children are reclaiming what was denied to their parents and cataclysmic to this is the reclaiming of their cultural identity which is closely related to their religious identity.

In the world, there are six major religions and these religions have been equally divided in two parts of the world. Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism, and the Vedic religion have been born in India while Judaism, Islam and Christianity were born in the Middle East, but unlike in India, where the different religious identities have been absorbed under single national identity, in the Middle East, different national identities have been absorbed by the religion and this has created discord. But that is a difficult matter to settle because of the diverse group of people who reside in the Middle East and it is this difficulty which is often used by external forces to keep their power assured. The powers that be, in order to maintain a hegemonic stability do rely on this discord in the Middle East to ensure their own stability. It is a vicious cycle that can only be broken having a tolerant attitude. It is difficult, but not entirely impossible.

Thus, to conclude, western Asia is a vast sea and a sea if vicious and turbulent, but it is also calm and beautiful and an important part of the world’s ecology. As violent and vicious as the sea gets, we need it to survive. Many of the world’s advancements would not have been possible without the assistance of the people of the nations of Western Asia and given a chance, it has a great potential to be the centre of the world again. We must not be too quick to discard this part of the world as only being important for its oil.

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