So the brother of Iran’s president walks into a Jewish hospital. No, it’s not the start of a joke. Call this story from Teheran political gesture or call it encouraging. Me, I’m calling it encouraging. One of the great obstacles facing Muslim states in this century is whether they can find some way to accept religious pluralism (including Shia/Shiite tolerance as well as interfaith pluralism).
Thomas Friedman wrote about this issue in a recent column. Here’s a quote from that column, the speaker being Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian foreign minister now with the Carnegie Endowment in the US:
"No sustainable progress will be possible without the ethic of pluralism permeating all aspects of Arab society – pluralism of thought, pluralism in gender opportunities, pluralism in respect to other religions, pluralism in education, pluralism toward minorities, pluralism of political parties rotating in power and pluralism in the sense of everyone’s right to think differently from the collective."
This is harder said than done. It hasn’t been achieved very well in the West, where aggressive secularism still fights culture wars with conservative and fundamentalist Christianity. The theological work necessary to sustain pluralism isn’t easy and most of it remains to be done, but it’s necessary in Tehran, and everywhere else, I would argue.