About Michel Chiha

Family, Childhood, Career

About Chiha Foundation

Near East / Middle East

“It is astonishing to find that in the transcript of Dr. Charles Malik’s declaration to the press on the 16th August, all his references to the Near East (Proche-Orient) were translated as Middle East (Moyen-Orient) by the AFP Washington correspondent, and yet the term ‘Proche Orient’ unequivocally stands for ‘Near East’. Throughout his scrupulously precise statement Mr. Charles Malik uses the term ‘Proche-Orient’ twenty five times but in the AFP version not a single instance of the term can be found. The reverse is also true. Not once did Mr. Malik use the term ‘Moyen-Orient and yet the AFP version is peppered with it. Thus whatever Dr. Malik had to say about the Near East was applied by the AFP to the Middle East. Albeit quite unintentional, this so-called news report amounts to a very serious distortion of the facts.
We hope that this legitimate and pressing grievance will be taken seriously by the AFP in Washington and that in the future they will endeavor to take greater pains at ensuring that their translations always reflect the truth…”
The Near East and The Middle East, M.C., Le Jour, August 24th 1951.

Introduction to Charles Malik’s letter to Michel Chiha about American perceptions of the Middle East:

On the 30th of March 1947, unable to officially express deep concerns he had about long term American diplomatic intentions in the Middle East, Mr. Malik wrote to Michel Chiha as a trusted confidant in order to share these concerns and to offer him a discreet personal insight about the American outlook on the Arab World in general and their lack of interest in Lebanon in particular, presumably as it did not play a pivotal role in the oil industry. The focus of his concerns is his fear for the future of Lebanon’s freedom and the long term effect American influence might have on the education system in Lebanon. (see letter from Hotel New Weston, New York).

…“The English believe they can erase the Near East with the stroke of a pen. They lump together Egyptians, Lebanese, Turks and Persians. The Americans believe they can solve the problem of Palestine and Palestinian refugees with their dollars. The English have turned the Arab League upside down whilst encouraging Hashemite ambitions in the region and the Americans are using oil to drown all local feeling and traditions. Thus everything is a mess and the ‘Middle East’ is in disarray…”
Common Sense, M.C., Le Jour, August 9th 1951

…“At a press conference in New York, Mr. Winston Churchill was described by one news agency as having “skillfully avoided answering any questions about the situation in the Near East declaring before anything else, it would have to be determined where the Middle East’ ended and where the ‘Near East’ began”… This paper has already stated that the Near East is delineated by the Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East by the West Indian Ocean with a degree of flexibility in the borders of their respective hinterlands in the same way and with the same subtleties as Europe is differentiated from Asia…”
Mr Churchill and the Middle East, M.C., Le Jour, January 10th 1952

In a private and confidential letter to Michel Chiha, the Minister of the British Legation to Beirut laid out his personal views on the cessation of the term ‘Near East’ in official British dispatches and tried to explain the broader view taken by the British for their very explicit use of the term ‘Middle’ rather than ‘Near’ East. Exhibiting a broad knowledge of the region’s history as well as an open acknowledgement of the fundamental cultural and scientific role the Levant in particular had played in the development of the modern world, he nevertheless falls back onto the necessities of earlier military prerogatives and the non-existence of a what he describes as a ‘Near Eastern Entity’ to explain the unchanged usage.
The tone of the letter is convivial as would be expected from a personal acquaintance with Michel Chiha but it is clear that it was the latter’s three leading articles and his personal conversations on the subject with the Minister (Plenipotentiary) that had prompted the letter.
In spite of the English position on the matter the United States were still using the term ‘Near East’ three years later.
…“One of the several morals of this story is that the arbitrary confusion between ‘Near’ and ‘Middle’ East is the same as that between Egypt and Pakistan…”
…“There can be no stability in the Arab world without a dedicated Mediterranean policy”.
Love’s labor’s lost or the pain of a lost love, M.C., Le Jour, February 24th, 1954

…“We have been meddling for a while now in Trans Jordanian affairs because the Trans Jordanians themselves meddle in matters that do not concern them. Of all the Arab countries with the least freedom of action, where every aspect of society is so guarded, it is strange that this very state is the most active in political intrigue and unrest…”

The game has lasted long enough, MC., Le Jour, November 22th, 1946