PROSPECTS FOR STABLE DEMOCRACY IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD:
THE FLAWED ANALYSIS OF NOAH FELDMAN
A BOOK REVIEW
BOOK REVIEWED: Noah Feldman, After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003. 272 pages. $24.
REVIEWER: Jonathan Schanzer
Feldman was briefly retained by the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Baghdad to assist in the drafting of a new Iraqi constitution. The 32-year-old assistant professor at New York University Law School may well have landed this extraordinary job because of his optimistic views about Iraq. "A post-Saddam Iraq will inevitably become," he writes in After Jihad, "a laboratory for trying out the mobile idea of democracy in front of the whole world." He calls the United States a "midwife" for democratization.
A review of his scholarship, however, reveals a simplistic and overly optimistic "why not?" approach to Islam and democracy. Using Western assumptions and pandering to a Western audience, he claims that Islam and democracy are two flexible ideas that are compatible if Muslims just put their minds to it. Feldman, however, fails to draw this conclusion from the great storehouse of Islamic jurisprudence that often argues to the contrary. Rather, it comes from his own skewed interpretation of modern history — one in which countries like Pakistan and Iran are on the cusp of democracy.
There are other problems with his analysis. As noted by Fatima Mernissi, a Moroccan scholar of Islam, many Muslims have "fought against the advances of Enlightenment philosophy and banned Western humanism as foreign and ‘imported,' calling the intellectuals who study it enemy agents and traitors to the nationalist cause." Feldman makes no mention of this powerful challenge.
He also misses the mark in stating that "everyone is equal before God" in Muslim theology. In reality, Muslims have historically viewed fellow monotheists as second-class citizens, while non-monotheists and slaves rank lower yet. Feldman seems to think that ignoring this reality makes it disappear.
In the end, however, militant Islam is Feldman's most major failing. While he recognizes the ideas of Hasan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, and other radical ideologues as problematic, he drastically underestimates the enduring nature of the movement they created. As his title suggests, Feldman lives in the happy delusion that we have reached an After Jihad era; he cheers himself with the implausible thesis that militant Islam has waned. The attacks of 9/11, he echoes Giles Kepel in explaining, were a "last, desperate gasp of a tendency to violence that has lost most of its popular support," a description that willfully ignores reports from across the Muslim world of delight at Osama bin Laden's achievement. And whence comes Feldman's conceit that the idea of an Islamic state created through holy war is "an idea whose time has passed"? One wonders how he would explain al-Qa'ida's recent bombings in Casablanca, Riyadh, and Istanbul. As further attacks by militant Islamists prove Feldman wrong, one can only wonder and worry about his handiwork and be grateful that he left his position in Iraq.
 Reviewed in Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2003, p. 88-9.
The Problem of Rogue States:
Iraq as a Case History
The Middle East & the Arabs
Islamism & Jihadism -- The Threat of Radical Islam
Page Three Page Two Page One
War & Peace in the Real World
Page Two Page One
Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
Against the U.S.A. & Western Civilization
Islamist International Terrorism &
U.S. Intelligence Agencies
U.S. National Security Strategy
The original version of the book review appeared in "Book Reviews," Middle East Quarterly Winter, 2004, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum.
Jonathan Schanzer is a Soref fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, specializing in the study of radical Islamic
Africa: Black Africa *
Africa: North Africa *
American Government 1
American Government 2 * American Government 3 * American Government 4
American Government 5 * American Politics * Anglosphere * Arabs
Arms Control & WMD * Aztlan Separatists * Big Government
Black Africa * Bureaucracy * Canada * China * Civil Liberties * Communism
Congress, U.S. * Conservative Groups * Conservative vs. Liberal
Constitutional Law * Counterterrorism * Criminal Justice * Disloyalty * Economy
Education * Elections, U.S. * Eminent Domain * Energy & Environment
English-Speaking World * Ethnicity & Race * Europe * Europe: Jews
Family Values * Far East * Fiscal Policy, U.S. * Foreign Aid, U.S. * France
Hispanic Separatism * Hispanic Treason * Human Health * Immigration
Infrastructure, U.S. * Intelligence, U.S. * Iran * Iraq * Islamic North Africa
Islamic Threat * Islamism * Israeli vs. Arabs * Jews & Anti-Semitism
Jihad & Jihadism * Jihad Manifesto I * Jihad Manifesto II * Judges, U.S. Federal
Judicial Appointments * Judiciary, American * Latin America * Latino Separatism
Latino Treason * Lebanon * Leftists/Liberals * Legal Issues
Local Government, U.S. * Marriage & Family * Media Political Bias
Middle East: Arabs * Middle East: Iran * Middle East: Iraq * Middle East: Israel
Middle East: Lebanon * Middle East: Syria * Middle East: Tunisia
Middle East: Turkey * Militant Islam * Military Defense * Military Justice
Military Weaponry * Modern Welfare State * Morality & Decency
National Identity * National Security * Natural Resources * News Media Bias
North Africa * Patriot Act, USA * Patriotism * Political Culture * Political Ideologies
Political Parties * Political Philosophy * Politics, American * Presidency, U.S.
Private Property * Property Rights * Public Assistance * Radical Islam
Religion & America * Rogue States & WMD * Russia * Science & Ethics
Sedition & Treason * Senate, U.S. * Social Welfare Policy * South Africa
State Government, U.S. * Subsaharan Africa * Subversion * Syria * Terrorism 1
Terrorism 2 * Treason & Sedition * Tunisia * Turkey * Ukraine
UnAmerican Activity * UN & Its Agencies * USA Patriot Act * U.S. Foreign Aid
U.S. Infrastructure * U.S. Intelligence * U.S. Senate * War & Peace
Welfare Policy * WMD & Arms Control