I am Near Eastern, not Middle Eastern. Why? Just look at this map! You see, there actually IS a difference.
The Limited Middle East
The term Middle East does NOT include North Africa and the middle and western Mediterranean regions in which i'm interested.
In fact, the term Middle East does not include much of the Ottoman Empire. First, it includes none of the European parts of the Ottoman Empire, such as the Balkans, Greece, and points west. And second, it doesn't include the North African parts. So if your persona is an Egyptian Ghawazee dancer, you aren't Middle Eastern, sorry.
So what does the Middle East include? It only spans the East shores of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas to, but not including, India. This covers the Levant - Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel-Palestine, and Anatolia/Asian Turkey, and Mesopotamia/Iraq, and Persia/Iran. In other words, Southwest Asia. Not bad, just a rather limited area compared to the possibilities.
The Inclusive Near East
So, you're better off saying "Near East". Why? What is the Near East?
My dictionary says it is an indefinite term, including North Africa, the Arab states, the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire, as well as the countries of Southwest Asia mentioned above. So Near East is much more inclusive.
When i hear "Middle East" i feel left out. If i hear "Near East" i feel so much better, and now that you know what it all means, so should you.
The Expansive Dar Islam
But, wait, there's more! If you want an even more inclusive term, you might choose "Dar al-Islam", which means, more-or-less, the Muslim world.
This includes everything from al-Andalus in Spain, Muslim Sicily, the Maghrib in North Africa, much of Sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, Southwest Asia (the Levant, Iraq, and Iran), through Central Asia, through South Asia (that's India and Pakistan) to East and Southeast Asia, where there are Chinese Muslims, the Malay Peninsula, the southern islands of the Philippines, Muslims in America (and Islam is the fastest growing religion by birth and immigration in America; neoPaganism is the fastest growing by conversion) and what is now the world's most populous Muslim country, Indonesia.
Sea faring traders from India had long been doing business with people in the Indonesian archipelago, later to be called the Spice Islands and the East Indies by European traders and colonialists. The major urban centers in the Indonesian archipelago took on the religion of their Indian trading partners beginning at least the 5th century CE. When the Indian traders were Buddhists, Buddhism became the religion in chief trading centers in the islands. When the Indian traders later became Hindus, Hinduism became the religion. And when the Indian traders became Muslims, Islam became the chief religion and is to this day, although there are other religions in some parts of Indonesia, both indigenous and by conversion.
In the late 16th century Dutch and Portuguese ships made it to Indonesia, home of many mysterious and valuable spices. I'm not sure just how much contact there was beyond this. European colonizing didn't really begin until the 17th century.
If you live somewhere hot, you might consider taking on an Indonesian persona. There's a large body of music and dance, and a rich history and culture to explore, not to mention simple but elegant clothing and delicious food.
I considered doing it, but it's too danged cold around here. Want more information? Let me know via my e-mail address at the bottom of this page.