After Jihad America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy

Noah Feldman

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

280 Pages



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What comes after jihad? Outside the headlines, believing Muslims are calling for democratic politics in their undemocratic countries. Senior American policymakers are predicting the spread of democracy throughout the Muslim world. But can Islam and democracy be combined? After Jihad proposes that Islamic democracy is indeed viable, and that the West—particularly the United States—should work to bring it about, not suppress it.

It is often said that encouraging democracy among Muslims will alienate America's autocratic Muslim allies and create a new security threat if fundamentalists are elected. But in the long term, Noah Feldman warns, the threat lies in our continuing to support regimes that have lost the confidence of their citizens. By siding with Islamic democrats rather than the regimes that repress them, he suggests, the United States can bind them to the democratic principles they say they support, reducing anti-Americanism and promoting a durable peace in the Middle East.

After Jihad is an illuminating survey of the intellectual and geopolitical terrain of the Muslim world and of the many Muslim democrats who reject religious violence. It is also an argument about American self-interest, which, Feldman proposes, should include a foreign policy consistent with the democratic values that make America what it is. At a time when the encounter with Islam has become the dominant issue in U.S. foreign policy, After Jihad offers keen solutions for how to make Democracy work in a region where it is urgently needed. This paperback edition—which includes a new preface taking account of recent events—is the best single book on the nature of Islam today and on the forms Islam is likely to take in the coming years.


Praise for After Jihad

"[Feldman] argues persuasively that democracy is the best, indeed the only, viable long-term solution to the conflict between the West and the forces of radical Islam."—Bezalel Stern, Jerusalem Post

"Feldman is convincing in his portrayal of Islamic legal thought as flexible and deeply resourceful . . . Feldman leaves little doubt that [democracy and Islamic traditions] are, in theory, compatible."—Robyn Creswell, Arab Studies Journal

"Feldman's central argument, that Islam and democracy are not necessarily incompatible and that it would be better for both the Muslim and the Western world if the two could be synthesized, deserves attention and commands respect."—Ivor Lucas, Asian Affairs

"In After Jihad, Noah Feldman takes issue with fellow Americans who say that Islam and democracy are incompatible. With America's help, democracy can come to most Islamic lands, he writes. Progress will be slow, however, and the result may bear scant resemblance to American-style democracy. But—as Feldman says again and again—both Islam and democracy are flexible institutions, capable of adapting themselves to wildly different societies. He also notes that both Islam and democracy have great appeal for billions of people. In his view, some kind of synthesis between these universalist and accommodating philosophies is not only possible but likely, given the right circumstances . . . The meat of After Jihad is a country-by-country tour of the Middle East, in which Feldman assesses each nation's chances of coming to terms with democracy, from Turkey (almost there) to Saudi Arabia (long odds) . . . Islam has a rich diversity—rich enough, in Feldman's view, to take the core of democracy and adapt it to fit a faith. Let's hope he's right."—Harry Levins, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Feldman has written a substantial and important defense of why America should support democratic reform and not the authoritarian status quo in much of the Muslim world. In the follow-up to the conflict in Iraq, no subject could be more timely."—Emran Qureshi, The Washington Post Book World

"Highly engaging . . . An intriguing and important work . . . Using refreshingly easy, jargon-free language, Feldman elucidates the conceptual similarities between Islam and democracy . . . After Jihad reflects what many non-Muslims living in Muslim-majority countries have always known—namely, that unless one understands and appreciates Islam, one cannot effectively engage with it or its adherents. For this reason alone, Feldman's work is timely . . . Feldman has done an excellent job."—Andrew Aeria, University Malaysia Sarawak, Ethics and International Affairs

"In a broad overview of the prospects and problems of democratization in various Muslim countries, Feldman's discussion is both accessible and nuanced . . . [This is] a tightly argued and pragmatic assessment of the costs and benefits of promoting democratization . . . Feldman has written a courageous and long overdue volume on the necessity of Islamic democracy."—Nader Hashemi, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

"Is Islamic democracy possible? If so, can and should America help bring it about? In this impressive debut, Noah Feldman shows with crystal clarity that the answer to both questions is yes. Rich in political history, cultural analysis, religious understanding, and comparative law, After Jihad is the first book I have read since September 11 that gives me hope that there may be light at the end of the war against terrorism."—Harold Hongju Koh, Gerard C. and Bernice Latrobe Smith Professor of International Law, Yale Law School, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 1998-2001

"Noah Feldman's After Jihad is a brilliant, insightful, and timely discourse on one of the most important topics of our time: the idea and practice of democracy in the Muslim world. Feldman sets the discussion within the context of America's growing 1interaction with Islam. You may agree or disagree with Feldman's arguments, but you cannot ignore their relevance."—Akbar S. Ahmed, Professor of International Relations, American University, and author of Discovering Islam: Making Sense of Muslim History and Society

"Feldman, an NYU professor with a doctorate in Islamic thought, wonders if democracy 'can be made to flourish in the lands where Islam prevails?' The answer, according to the author, is a resounding yes. Furthermore, he argues convincingly that the West in general and the U.S. in particular must encourage democratic growth even at the expense of existing relations with autocratic Islamic regimes viewed as our traditional allies. Attempting to prove that democratic ideals are not necessarily incompatible with Islamic thought and culture, he delves into the fascinating history and religion of a largely misunderstood region. Certain to spur debate, this thought-provoking discourse couldn't be published at a more appropriate time."—Booklist

"Feldman is careful to distinguish his first book from some of the spate of recent works with the word ‘jihad' in the title, which contend that anti-Western, violent brands of Islam are growing in strength and bravado. Feldman argues, on the contrary, that September 11 and more recent sporadic attacks mark ‘the last, desperate gasp of a tendency to violence that has lost most of its popular support.' Violent jihad, or struggle, he asserts, has lost its luster in the Muslim world except in cases of self-defense, and most Muslims find both Islamic ideals and democratic values appealing. The question then becomes, ‘Would democratically elected Islamic governments be good or bad for Western interests?' His answer is that we shouldn't fear the worst. Feldman, a professor at New York University's School of Law with a doctorate in Islamic thought from Oxford, notes that both Islam and democracy are based on human equality and are highly flexible, and disputes claims that they are incompatible . . . The strength of Feldmen's work lies in his consistent and simple reminder that the emergence of democracy in some countries will not necessarily bring about Islamist rule, and that suppressing it would itself be downright undemocratic."—Publishers Weekly

"Feldman, who holds a doctorate in Islamic thought, is presently working with the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Baghdad, assisting in the drafting of a new constitution for Iraq. After Jihad is a compact treatment of how American foreign policy has responded to Muslim states and governments combined with a narrative call for reform. The author initiates readers into selected elements of Islam, then gives examples of how the religion is molded onto the Western state system in Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, and in South and Southeast Asia. The issue of oil in Saudi Arabia in a political economy context is also covered. The U.S., Feldman argues, must continue to support the infusion of democracy in the Muslim world if it is to have any influence in that part of the world for the foreseeable future . . . Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above."—S. R. Silverburg, Catawba College, Choice

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Can democracy be made to flourish in the lands where Islam prevails? Today this might be the single most pressing question for American foreign policy, and this book sets out to answer it. But more than a decade ago,...

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  • Noah Feldman

  • Noah Feldman teaches law at New York University. A former Supreme Court clerk, he was senior advisor for constitutional law for the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in the months after the U.S. war in Iraq. His writing has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. He lives in New York and Washington, D.C.

  • Noah Feldman