Back to the Future: The Paradoxical Revival of Aspirations for an Islamic State
Review of Constitutional Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2009
19 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2009 Last revised: 21 Aug 2009
Date Written: March 4, 2009
Noah Feldman's most recent publication seeks to explain the apparently paradoxical rise of grassroots political movements in the Islamic world (and especially the Arab Middle East) demanding the resurrection of an Islamic state, movements often broadly referred to as "Islamist." In a field that is dominated by specialists who usually write for specialists, his book is a welcome addition to the literature on the modern idea of an Islamic state. It gives a highly readable and accessible account of the history of Islamic law, its relationship to Islamic ideals of governance and why that history and those ideals remain relevant to large numbers of politically active Muslims in the modern world. Its policy recommendations, specifically, the need for the United States to engage positively with Islamic movements committed to the democratized version of Islamic law he describes may be controversial, but he argues for them with some force: a democratized version of Islamic law is being developed by indigenous Muslim elites that on its own terms can reasonably be viewed as a progressive development in the governance of those societies, and that to the extent such movements enjoy democratic legitimacy, U.S. opposition to their political success represents a betrayal of U.S. values, and potentially, U.S. interests as well. While features of his account of the classical Islamic state and the history of governance in the Arab/Islamic world in last 150 years are highly problematic (as discussed below), it nevertheless fills an important gap in the non-specialist literature on the history of the idea of an Islamic state.
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