A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, May 24, 2012

It's Not Just Iran That Ties Itself in Knots Over the Name of the [Insert Name Here] Gulf

We often comment here on the ongoing "Name That Gulf!" controversy over the body of water between Iran and Arabia. Usually it's Iran that is saber-rattling because someone, somewhere has called the body of water something other than "Persian Gulf"; recently, when Google Maps simply refused to label the Gulf, they went ballistic about that, and still say they will sue Google.

The latest incident, though, is in Saudi Arabia, where the Alice Through the Looking Glass rules apply and you get in trouble for calling it Persian, in this case in an English writing exam at King Khaled Universiity in ‘Asir, The temporary contract professor chose a passage from a book, unaware that there is a decree in the Kingdom forbidding using texts that include the term.

Ayatollah Khomeini reportedly suggested "the Islamic Gulf." But does that mean that the Gulfs of, oh, just off the top of my head, Tunis, Hammamet, Gabes, Sidra, Suez, Aqaba, Aden, and Oman, are somehow less Islamic? (For Khomeini the answer may have been yes, but it does seem a bit all-inclusive.)

Since you get in trouble with somebody for calling it "Persian Gulf," "Arab Gulf," just "the Gulf," or, like Google, for not labeling it at all,  I will for now take my cue from the Sumerians (who got there first) and simply call it "The Great Water." Or perhaps it might be more appropriate to use one of their other names, "the Bitter Sea."

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