Instead of becoming easier to understand the tangled web of interaction between Christians, Jews and Muslims, the Middle East situation seems to have become more complex.
Take the problem of the proposed Islamic Center (a mosque plus library and resource areas) just a few blocks from ground zero, site of the 9/11 attacks in New York.
This should have been a simple local zoning decision: Did the proposed building meet all the New York City building codes? But when first proposed, did anybody consider this to be appropriate for a building near ground zero, where terrorists killed so many thousands of people from all over the world who were working in the World Trade Center? Did the fact that the terrorists were extremist Muslims influence those who considered the proposal?
I do not know but I suspect some of those killed were Muslims working routine jobs. Extremists involve just a fraction of those of the Muslim faith in the world.
The United States was the first government to recognize Israeli independence when that state was created after the United Nations divided the Palestine mandate of Great Britain into Israeli and Palestinian territories.
Jews with U.S. citizenship do not lose their citizenship if they wish to become Israeli citizens. Later, if they do not like conditions in Israel, these citizens can return to the U.S. as citizens who do not need to go through immigration and nationalization procedures. Thus for these people U.S. citizenship is like a coat, hung up while they assume Israeli citizenship, and then put back on when they return to the United States.
When I visited Israel in 1975, I sat in the balcony of Israeli Parliament watching the excited debate about the number of Israeli citizens leaving the country, which was about the same number as those immigrating into Israel.
Israel is surrounded by enemy Arab states who want to return Palestine to the Palestinians and drive the Jews back to their former home states. Wars and threats of wars, and cruel terrorist attacks on both military and civilian facilities makes leading a normal peaceful life seem remote in most parts of Israel.
The U.S. government sees Israel as the only real democracy in the Middle East. We have supported Israel militarily, economically and diplomatically.
I believe many Jewish people in the U.S. were upset when they heard that President Barack Obama seemed at first to support the Islamic Center being built so close to ground zero, citing freedom of speech and religious freedom as basis for his support.
How does this building location affect the newly agreed to round table talks for peace between Gaza and Israel, which are about to begin shortly?
Is the U.S. leaving its supposed balanced approach to Jewish-Arab talks over Gaza or the West Bank?
If Iran reaches atomic bomb capability in the near future, would the U.S. support an Israeli preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, as we did when Israel attacked and destroyed Saddam Hussein's atomic bomb making facility before we invaded Iraq and deposed his regime?
How does peace between Arabs and Jews affect the war plans of the U.S. in Afghanistan? And what affect will the Islamic Center's location have on our delicate post war plans for Iraq after most of our troops are brought home?
It is easy to ask questions. Finding real answers may not be possible for those problems involving values, morals, ideals, and diplomatic, social, environmental and humanitarian crises (think what to do with the crisis in flooded Pakistan?)
With the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the United States is the single superpower in the world. Finding answers to the major problems that seem to arise with each new day is not easy.
What we want to do to solve problems shows to the rest of the world just what kind of country we are trying to become. It is certain that we will be misunderstood, and our motives suspect. We need to understand other people, other religions and other cultures. We should try to promote real and lasting better lives for everybody.
We are part of the political, military, economic and environmental world. We are all in the messed up problems of everybody. Let us exercise our leadership opportunities wisely.
We have no other choice.
Dr. Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears regularly on Mondays and on gainesvilletimes.com.