These days, the National Geographic Channel is screening a series called "Don’t Tell My Mother I’m In…".
Don't Tell My Mother I’m In… shows what goes on in a war zone. The host Diego Buñuel goes on a behind-the-scenes journey through these countries with dubious reputations, including Pakistan, Iran and former Yugoslavia.
Iran was one of his fascinating journeys. Contrary to the notions most people have about Iran as being a backward looking fundamentalist state, Diego's show projected Iran as a progressive state. Unlike most Islamic states, women do seem to be empowered - where else in the Muslim world would you find women drivers?
How different is Iran from the rest of the Muslim world? If one were to draw a line across Asia, one would find only a handful of true democracies - Israel, Iran, India and Japan. The rest of them are regimes which are totalitarian, autocratic, propped up by the military or are benign dictatorships.
This is sharp contrast to the rest of the Muslim world - Pakistan or say, Saudi Arabia.
My measure of how liberal an Islamic state is, would be judged from the way the state treats its Jews. Jews in Iran, do seem to treated fairly well. Besides Diego's show, this was confirmed by Roger Cohen's column in The New York Times titled What Iran’s Jews Say.
Iranian Jews have representation in the Iranian parliament and freedom to follow their faith - Tehran has over 11 synagogues.
Wikipedia mentions Iranian Jews have their own newspaper (called "Ofogh-e-Bina"), Jewish scholars performing Judaic research at Tehran's "Central Library of Jewish Association". The "Dr. Sapir Jewish Hospital" is Iran's largest charity hospital of any religious minority community in the country.
Has Iran sponsored Islamic terror? No. Has Iran ever exported virulent Islam? No. Iran is very different from the rest of the Muslim world.
The relative liberalism of Iran is perhaps what is prompting the United States to extend them an olive branch.
In context of the present geopolitical situation in the region, the United States can have only three reliable partners in the region - Israel, India and Iran. It is perhaps the only functioning democracy in the Islamic world. A strategic partnership with Iran not only helps in moderating the virulent Islamic forces but also paves the way for energy security of the world.
India can play an important role in getting Iran and the United States to talk. India has an advantage of both geographical proximity as well as close bilateral relations with Iran. We can use this leverage to our benefit. Let's remember, getting the United States and Iran together makes the neighbourhood more secure for us - the United States can then focus solely on eliminating radical elements in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Getting Iran to the mainstream is the key to peace in our region.