The issues in the Middle East are too complicated to address in one lecture, said an Israeli educator and former senior Israeli official on Arab affairs who spoke Thursday evening at King Library.
"I've been dealing with this stuff 15 years of my life, and I still understand nothing," Avi Melamed told a crowd of about 30 in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library at a lecture hosted by the SJSU Jewish studies program.
The talk was titled "The Minaret and the Satellite Dish: A Geostrategic Analysis of the Middle East."
A minaret is a tall tower used by Muslims to issue calls to prayer.
The title referenced an identity struggle in the Arab world that has intensified with globalization and mass communications, Melamed said.
Senior economics major Maike Spanninger, an exchange student from Germany, said she attended the lecture because she didn't understand Middle East issues and wanted to learn more.
"It's on the news a lot, but not in great detail, so the idea you get is not very clear," she said. "The situation is so complicated. If he doesn't understand it after 15 years, how are they supposed to present it on the news?"
Melamed said there were three main reasons for the Arab world's identity struggle, which were the instability of political structures, the impact of radical Islam and the increasing tension between Sunnis and Shiites, two branches of Islamic belief.
Melamed said most victims of radical Islam were other Muslims.
"The majority of Muslims are regular people, normal people," he said. "They don't want to kill people. The ground was set to legitimize the butchering of innocent Muslim people because they were perceived as impure Muslims."
Melamed said the issue of radical Islam runs deeper than the tensions between Israel and the Arab world.
"If tomorrow morning Israel were to vanish, suicide bombers will not vanish," he said.
"It's something that completely mystifies me, the concept of suicide bombing," said lecturer Victoria Harrison, coordinator for the Jewish studies program at SJSU. "You can't value life if you can't value your own life."
Melamed said in his talk that members of the Arab world need to look within themselves.
"More and more, we see in forces within the Muslim and Arab world, people who stand up and say, 'We have created a monster and it's about time we stop feeding that monster.'"
Billal Asghar, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, said he wasn't there for the lecture, but wished the organizers presented another viewpoint.
"I'm not discrediting the speaker himself or the club itself, but I would like to see all sides represented," he said.
Asghar, a senior double major in global studies and health science, said the Israeli government commits human rights violations against the Palestinian people such as blockades and checkpoints that make it difficult for them to live and work.
"If we don't focus on what the Palestinian people's grievances are and try to learn from their perspective as well, we won't understand the conflict itself," he said. "The American people need to understand the conflict as well, because our government is involved, and as Americans, we can influence public policy about the Middle East."
Melamed said he is open to discuss issues with those who don't agree with Israeli policies.
"I'm not here to argue emotions, but I would gladly hear any criticism that is based upon facts that is taking into consideration the large context of things," he said.
Melamed said the Middle East debates lead back to the topic of democracy.
He said he once asked a group of students to identify the essence of democracy.
"People came up with lots of answers - freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of mind, pluralism, engagement," he said. "Those are all good answers, but wrong ones. The essence of democracy is life."