After Jihad:
America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy

Noah Feldman

Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2003
A book review by Danny Yee © 2003
How are Islam and democracy interacting? Can they flourish together? In After Jihad Noah Feldman considers these questions and their implications for the foreign policy of the United States. He begins with some history and a look at general issues, then surveys the situation in a range of Islamic countries, and finally offers some policy suggestions and exhortations.

Feldman analyses Islam and democracy as mobile ideas — simple, universal, flexible — and argues that some kind of productive synthesis between them is needed, something that goes beyond individual cosmopolitanism or unbalanced "creolization". He gives a capsule history of modernist and political Islam, touches on classical Islamic ideas such as shura (consultation), and considers the range of ways in which a state could be "Islamic", from a largely symbolic framework such as that of the Church of England to attempts to implement classical Islamic law (or rather some modern interpretation thereof). Critical issues are likely to be equality of women and liberty under family law — but here Islam is not necessarily any more of an impediment than Judaism or Christianity.

Part two is a survey of the status of democracy and political Islam in predominantly Muslim countries, which range from the relatively robustly democratic to the autocratic, and from theocratic to fiercely secular. Feldman covers Iran, Turkey, South and Southeast Asia (mostly Indonesia), and Pakistan. He divides the Arab states into monarchies and dictatorships with and without oil, treating at greatest length Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Morocco, Egypt, and Iraq and Libya. Assuming no background knowledge, the result is a decent survey pitched at the level of a quality newspaper.

Perhaps the biggest limitation is that this really only considers state level politics and ideologies, with just a little discussion of civil society. There's almost no ethnographic detail, no probing of the motivations of individuals or the role of Islam and democracy in local communities. There is at least as much variation at this level as there is between states, and in the long-run it may be just as important.

Feldman bring up policy implications throughout After Jihad, but in part three he turns to direct advocacy. Pragmatic arguments for encouraging moves to democracy in Islamic countries include the need to head off violent revolutions and to neutralize the anti-Americanism that comes from supporting autocratic governments. There is also the moral argument that supporting democracy is the right thing to do, even where it might run counter to real-politik. When it comes to "how", Feldman advocates economic pressure and the targeted use of aid; writing just before the invasion of Iraq, he accepts that the oil dictatorships may pose a special problem. Islamic organisations are key parts of civil society and some will be useful allies.

Feldman maintains a positive view throughout After Jihad, but he doesn't ignore or downplay problems. While how much we (that is, the United States) can achieve is unknown, something is clearly possible, whereas "if we assume that Islam and democracy will not prove able to bridge their differences, the prophecy of failure will be self-fulfilling". In any event, Feldman will have a chance to put his ideas into practice — he's been given a job helping to produce a new constitution for Iraq.

After Jihad is aimed at an American audience and uses comparisons and analogies to the United States, and in a few cases to Israel or Britain. At one point, for example, Feldman imagines how the Turkish Justice and Development Party would be constrained by the constitution if it came to power in the United States. This may help some see their own systems of government in a new light. Accessible and informative, After Jihad will certainly help to improve understanding of Islam and Middle Eastern politics.

June 2003

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%T After Jihad
%S America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy
%A Feldman, Noah
%I Farrar, Straus & Giroux
%D 2003
%O hardcover, references, index
%G ISBN 0374177694
%P 260pp