Young Professor Noah Feldman is the latest high profile academic evangelist for "Islamic Democracy". The crux of Feldman's views can be readily gleaned by reading his sole book, or short writings. I believe his apologetics regarding the application of the Shari'a (Islamic Holy Law)- past, present, and potentially in the future- are delusional and corrosive.
My major concerns are the following:
(I) A completely uncritical acceptance of the most sanitized, sacralized version of "classical" Islamic history, from Muhammad's consolidation of control over Arabia, through the extensive jihad conquests of Asia, Africa, and Europe
Feldman's writings are disturbingly reminiscent of Professor John Esposito's presentations, which suffer from these inappropriate biases, as lucidly described by the scholar Bat Ye'or: 1) historical negationism, consisting of suppressing or sketching in a page or a paragraph, one thousand years of jihad which is presented as a peaceful conquest, generally "welcomed" by the vanquished populations; 2) the omission of Christian and, in particular, Muslim sources describing the actual methods of these conquests, and the rule of the conquered peoples, as sanctioned by the classical jihad ideology written by numerous Muslim jurists since the 7th century: pillage, enslavement, deportation, massacres, and the imposition of dhimmitude; 3) the mythical historical conversion of "centuries" of "peaceful coexistence", masking the processes which transformed majorities (i.e., vast Christian populations, in particular) into minorities, constantly at risk of extinction.
(II) Moral equivalences that range from the deliberately disingenuous, to the frankly absurd; just a few examples:
• The contemporary Anglican Church is deemed comparable to those Shi'ite clerics (including, one must assume, Khomeini disciples) calling for the creation of an Islamic state in Iraq.
• The application of Halachic law in Israel is highlighted trying (most unpersuasively) to argue that the imposition of Shari'a would be no worse- an utterly absurd comparison given the truly circumscribed application of Halachic Law in Israel, relative to the far reaching repression of basic rights for all women and all non-Muslims under Shari'a law, or Shari'a-inspired law in Muslim countries, or even Muslim-dominated provinces (eg., in Northern Nigeria) that apply the Shari'a.
• Apologism for barbaric hudud punishments (stoning to death for adultery; mutilation for theft) under the Shari'a.
• Non-sequitur discussion of the "limitations" of the U.S. Bill of Rights without any serious discussion of the fact that true freedom of conscience (i.e., including the right to become an atheist or change one's faith) simply does not exist in any of the 55 countries of the Organization of Islamic States, while many are in egregious violation of its provisions.
This warped historiography and unacceptable moral equivalence are melded in a clumsy, callow manner yielding roseate, if not downright reckless predictions about the presumed actions of so-called "Islamist-democrats". Indeed, the bizarre concept of "Islamist-democrats" epitomizes the profoundly flawed premises of Feldman's analyses. He specifically cites SheikhYusuf Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the influential Muslim Brotherhood as an example of such an "Islamist-democrat", calling him "complex". Again, one is reminded of John Esposito's utterly discredited reasoning. During a January, 1998 interview - Sheikh Qaradawi stated his beliefs- using unfettered Medieval terminology- that Islamic law divided the People of the Book - Jews and Christians - into three categories: 1) non-Muslims in the lands of war; 2) non-Muslims in lands of temporary truce; 3) non-Muslims protected by Islamic law, that is to say, the dhimmis. Sheikh al-Qaradawi, made it clear that Islamic law had established different rules for each of these categories. The good Sheikh had thus summarized concisely the theory of jihad war (unfortunately ignored by Feldman, Esposito, and their ilk) which regulates the relations of Muslims with non-Muslims.
Feldman also appears to have great faith in disgruntled "former" Islamists who now profess to be "liberal Muslims"- at least in their writings. One such example is the Iranian writer Abdolkarim Soroush who previously participated in the forced Islamization of Iranian universities under Ayatollah Khomeini. But, perhaps most telling is that Feldman provides no candid analysis of the human rights tragedy engendered by the failed Iranian theocracy, and its experimentation with Shari'a-inspired, "culturally authentic" Islamic democracy. We must hope that the scholarly insights of Professor Reza Afshari, an Iranian secularist, will penetrate Feldman's hubris. At any rate, this excerpt from the Preface, p. xvi, to Afshari's "Human Rights in Iran-The Abuse of Cultural Relativism", should be required reading for Feldman:
"...Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran has presented an almost perfect case. Who is more culturally and religiously authentic than the Ayatollah's? Who is more credible to say what relevance Shiite culture has or does not have for the major issues of our time? The issue is not Islam as a private faith of individuals. It is about what state officials claiming Islamic authority might have to say about the state's treatment of citizens. Islamic cultural relativism in human rights discourse addresses Islamic cultural preferences for the articulation of public policies within the contemporary state. In Iran, liberal Muslims or any other new interpreters of Islam did not come to power. When and if they do, we will have their record to examine. What we have from liberal Muslims today are only ideological claims punctuated by expressed good intentions. A sector of the traditional custodians of religion, the ulema, politicizing Islam did come to power; therefore it is logical to assume what we faced in the 1980s and 1990s was the result of Shiite Islam (at least an authentic version of it) injecting itself into the politics of a contemporary state. They created a record of what the `culturally authentic' rulers did. The Western cultural relativists deserve to know the details of that record...."