After Jihad presents a persuasive argument for a new US policy to encourage Islamic democracy instead of continuing support for autocrats in the Muslim world. The author argues in theoretical and practical terms that Islamic democracy is possible and then proposes a road map for its realization. The book’s timely message is that despite the popular view of Islam as violent, many Muslims around the world are struggling for more democratic systems, and US support of repressive regimes that lack popular legitimacy increases the potential for violence.

Recent examples have shown that whenever fair elections occur in the Muslim world, Islamists are the winners. In fact, it is the fear of Islamist rise to power, as in Algeria in 1991, that has allowed dictators to retain the support of their Western backers. Is there an alternative to choosing between autocrats and Islamists? According to author Noah Feldman, Islamic democracy could take several forms with Islam as a source of identity, values, ideas, or legislation. Even democracy with Islamic law is better than autocracy because the rule of law keeps leaders accountable.

Looking at Islam and democracy as ideas rather than civilizations or worldviews, Feldman suggests that the two ideas have enough in common to be synthesized. The author raises the question that if people in the Muslim world yearn for democracy, why not simply democratize instead of insisting on Islamic democracy? The simple explanation is that Muslims want Islam to be part of their private and public lives. For instance, political Islam in the Arab world has shown itself to be a popular force even in conventional politics.

How might Islam and democracy coexist? Feldman examines the three basic features of Islamic political theory—leaders must be selected by the people, subject to shari’a (Islamic law), and committed to practicing shura (consultation) with their community—and sees none of them as incompatible with democracy. If one replaces these three principles with elections, rule of law, and political participation, then the possibilities of a synthesis emerge. There is an apparent incompatibility regarding the notion of sovereignty, which, according to Islam, belongs to God, whereas democratic theory ascribes sovereignty to the people. However, Feldman says, a Muslim can accept that there is no contradiction between the right to self-rule and adherence to God’s basic teaching.

Feldman argues that equality among citizens and a certain degree of liberty can also occur in an Islamic state. Feldman sees no theoretical barrier, based on historic experience and Islamist writings, to equal treatment before the law, even for women and non-Muslims, in an Islamic state. As for liberty, while an Islamic state may not be as liberal as a Western democracy in light of restrictions on personal behavior, it need not be undemocratic. The extent of liberalism among Muslim states varies and depends on whether the implementation of shari’a is comprehensive or selective, as has been the case throughout history.

Part Two of the book evaluates how the ideas of Islam and democracy already interact in the Muslim world. It examines conditions in a number of Arab and non-Arab Muslim states to show how the encounter between Islam and democracy is shaping prospects for transition to Islamic democracy. The first case to be analyzed involves Iran, which Feldman sees as a central player in the development of Islamic democracy. Iran already has theorists with a vision of Islamic democracy and a real movement, led by President Mohammad Khatami, struggling for its realization. Yet this movement is locked in a bitter conflict with hardliners who are trying to preserve the autocratic religious order.

In opposition to Iran is Turkey, where the experiment with democracy coexists with a secular state closely monitored and occasionally intervened in by the military. In recent years, Turkey has witnessed the rise of a moderate Islamic movement for democracy. According to Feldman, “The more truly democratic Turkey becomes, the more Islamic it is likely to be.” The impressive showing of the Islamic-oriented Justice and Development Party in the 2002 election lends credence to Feldman’s assertion.

The Arab world shows the bleakest prospects for democratization, Islamic or otherwise. The non-oil monarchies, such as Morocco and Jordan, seem to have the greatest prospect for democracy, while the worst prospects is a country like Libya where the regime seems unsusceptible to domestic and international pressures. While there is no simple approach to advancing democracy in the Muslim world, Feldman proposes the promotion of free elections and individual rights in order to encourage the formulation of political associations and contestation in elections.

The third part shifts from analysis to argument, making the case that the United States must reconsider its policies toward the Muslim world to promote democracy, which would serve long-term US interests and promote peace in the Middle East. This argument has several components. First is the pragmatic consideration that democratic rule could significantly benefit US interests. Furthermore, failure to support democracy opens the door for violent change in the Muslim world—a possibility likely to create enemies of those who sided with the previous rule.

Feldman’s suggestions for promoting democracy range from economic assistance to strategic alliances with potential democracies. He acknowledges the diversity of Muslim countries and argues that the United States should work with movements and individuals to uphold civil society. Two points by the author deserve further illumination. First, Feldman makes a distinction between Islamic and Islamist democracy. He suggests that the first is more compatible with democracy and hence is more desirable than the latter. The basis of this distinction has to do with how comprehensively Islam is incorporated into the affairs of the state. In Islamic democracy, some religious values are incorporated into public life, but Islam is not the only source of law. In other sections of the book, he identifies mainstream Islamists, such as the Jordanian Islamic Action Front, as models of a moderate movement calling for Islamic, not Islamist, democracy. The question then arises: which Islamists are capable of creating a synthesis between Islam and democracy in the form of Islamic democracy and which are likely to produce an Islamist regime? Based on my own research, I see a meaningful differentiation between moderate Islamists, who believe in the compatibility of Islam, and democracy and extremist Islamists, who do not. The order envisioned by extremist Islamists is likely to be another autocratic polity, similar to Afghanistan under the Taliban.

The second problem is the author’s tacit acquiescence to the idea of regime change in Iraq. The lack of worldwide support for the United States during the war means that the possibility of further violent attacks against the United States and its allies still lurks in the horizon. In other words, a military campaign to oust Saddam Hussein, while successful, may produce a violent response from those who perceive US intervention in the name of liberating the Iraqi people as a new crusade and form of imperialism. In sum, After Jihad combines the insights of a political theorist with the persuasiveness of a legal expert to take up the task of restructuring the Middle East.