I think its safe to say that most North Americans without family ties to the Middle East, really don't understand its politics and history beyond "after World War Two, the Western world felt bad about the Holocaust and created Israel for Jewish people and ever since then, Muslims have been mad".
I have been actively taking in the news on a regular basis for some time now and I *still* don't feel that I really have a strong grasp on what's going on and why. I know the words Shite, Sunni, Arab, Palestinian, Zionist but they are empty words to me. I don't *know* these generalizations like others I know, like American, Canadian, Quebecois, Texan, or Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or Baptist. I know next to nothing about Syria and I haven't gotten around to figuring out how the the British colony of Palestine ever came about. I can't tell the propaganda from the facts.
So why is it, while Middle East politics have dominated our news coverage for as long as I can remember, that even the most basic history of the region is not taught in high school? When more and more people get their news from The Daily Show, why haven't news organizations responded by making a more concerted effort to educate their viewers and provide some context to their reporting?
The most obvious answer to the question is that the matter is *too* political to be taught in school or "explained" on television. And yet, by the amount of news coverage given to the region, you can't help but think basic understanding of the issues related to the Middle East would be necessary to be a citizen in full in this day and age. If Americans are killing and dying in Iraq (and if Canadians are killing and dying in Afganistan) shouldn't we give more than just passing attention? And if we can now satririze race and religious on (cable) television (so much so that the satire of racism on South Park, The Chapelle Show, and the Family Guy is just a knife's edge away from appearing straight-up racist) why can't we simply talk about these issues?
Another answer that comes to mind is that the matter is too complicated for young minds. At the university where I am employed, "The Politics of the Middle East" course is for third year students who have taken a first year prerequisite course in World History. But its because this issue is so complicated, is why I think the issue should be tackled early and repeated in school.
By the way, I should state that I have no religious affiliation and I belong to the plague o both your houses camp when it comes to Middle East politics. If you have a recommendation where I should start my self-education - perhaps a book, article or website, I would love to hear it. Otherwise, I'm going to read Middle East for Dummies.