Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Islam and Democracy - Not an Impossible Marriage ; Noah Feldman Is Writing a New Constitution for Iraq

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Islam and Democracy - Not an Impossible Marriage ; Noah Feldman Is Writing a New Constitution for Iraq

Article excerpt

With the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, the United States has begun the daunting task of bringing democracy to a nation that has not known freedom. The consensus among many experts is that the Arab world and democracy are incompatible. Islam, the argument goes, breeds a submissive attitude - not only to Allah but also to political and religious leaders as well - that makes Muslims inherently incapable of participating in the rough-and- tumble world of electoral politics and of respecting the rights of minorities who follow a different religious or cultural path.

In "After Jihad," Noah Feldman, a New York University law professor with a doctorate in Islamic Thought from Oxford, builds a compelling and persuasive case that this consensus is misinformed.

There is a tremendous appetite for democratic reform throughout the Middle East, he claims, and the US can play a leading role in encouraging Muslims to pressure their governments to hand over power.

But this will take a shift in American policy. The US has historically valued stability over the political and religious turmoil that democracy could bring, leading it to support autocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia's. However, in the long run, Feldman says, democratic reforms can only draw the US and Muslim countries closer.

Unlike most academics, Feldman now has the opportunity to put his theories into practice. He was recently named head of the constitutional team with the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Iraq. It will be the team's responsibility to oversee and advise on drafting the constitution for a new democratic order.

"The costs of sticking with the autocrats are great," he writes. "Continuing this policy will array the United States and the West against the interests of ordinary Muslims, who will be unlikely to forget what they see as a betrayal of the values of freedoms and self-government that the US and the West represent to them. Frustrated dreams of self-government will continue to attach themselves, however fleetingly, to any Muslim leader who purports to stand up to the US, even when he is a notorious butcher like Saddam or a marginal extremist like Osama bin Laden."

Feldman's optimism that Islam and democracy are a natural fit is based on his belief that they are both mobile ideas, philosophies that are easily understood in different cultures and carry universal truths, with similar basic elements. Both Islam and democracy hold that all humans are equal and that we have certain responsibilities to society. At its core, each treats human beings with respect and asks that we treat others the same way. …

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