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When Noah Feldman’s cell phone goes off during his frequent shuttles between homes in Washington and Manhattan, the call is likely to be from Baghdad and the caller is likely to ask complicated questions about constitutional law — in Arabic. No problem for the onetime Boston yeshiva boy. Freshly back to work as an assistant professor at New York University School of Law after special assignment in the Iraqi capital, it happens that Feldman is fluent in Arabic, and Hebrew, French and ancient Aramaic as well. (And thanks to his wife, Jeannie Suk, a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, his competency in Korean progresses nicely.) On August 11, the interim Iraqi Governing Council in Baghdad named a constitutional committee to draft a blueprint for the end of dictatorship and a future of representative government. Feldman, 33, a scholar of international law and a practitioner of American constitutional law, provided legal counsel in the run-up to the committee’s formation, and continues to provide advice at long distance. Besides his linguistic facility, and the fact that he holds a Ph.D. in Islamic thought from Oxford University in England, the reason the U.S. Department of Defense tapped Feldman had much to do with his new book, “After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy,” and its provocative theme: “Democracy will find … allies among moderates and secularists [in the Muslim world], and also, more remarkably, among Islamists who have spent much of the past decade building up social and charitable institutions that meet all the criteria [of] civil society. “The mobile ideas of Islam and democracy have the flexibility, [and] universality to make their encounter into a struggle for synthesis rather than supremacy. This vision is not utopian. Its realistic beginnings exist.” Shortly before publication of his book by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Feldman received a call from Christopher “Ryan” Henry, principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for policy. Two days after the book’s release, Secretary Henry had Feldman on a military jet bound for Baghdad, there to serve as senior advisor for constitutional law to the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. “It gave my publisher fits,” Feldman said in an interview. But beyond advocating strong views in print and flogging his book in media appearances, “Here was the chance to really get something done, whether you agree with the war or not. I knew [Iraq] would be a limited tour, I knew I could go into meetings and say whatever I wanted. “Sometimes, they didn’t like what I said, especially since so many were told there would be secular democracy in Iraq overnight,” said Feldman, who majored in Near East studies and languages at Harvard College and earned a J.D. at Yale Law School. “It’s ironic that some people in the [American] political spectrum are actively promoting religion in the U.S. government, but when it comes to Iraq, they want radical secularism.” SUPPORT FOR DICTATORS Another point of discomfiture Feldman provided U.S. occupation officials was the reminder in his book of America’s habit of supporting violent dictators over elected democrats in the Muslim world, notably in Algeria in the early 1990s and Iran in the 1950s. “If we blow it this time,” said Feldman, “we’re really going to have to take a long look at ourselves.” With its frequent reflections on American conduct in foreign affairs — in legal, cultural and political terms — Feldman’s book, “After Jihad,” draws the praise of two academic colleagues. “This is the first book I have read since Sept. 11 that gives me hope that there may be light at the end of the war against terrorism,” said Harold Hongju Koh, professor of international law at Yale and a former Assistant Secretary of State in the Clinton administration. Akbar S. Ahmed, professor of international relations at American University in Washington, said the book was “brilliant” and “insightful” as a discourse on “one of the most important topics of our time: the idea and practice of democracy in the Muslim world.” But an international lawyer who at this tender moment in history calls Osama bin Laden a “marginal extremist,” as Feldman does in his book, will certainly have detractors. Chief among his critics is Martin Kramer, editor of the academic journal Middle East Quarterly and a senior associate at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. “The problem with Noah Feldman is that his idea isn’t new,” Kramer wrote in a review. “In fact, it’s the same idea first advanced about a decade ago by John L. Esposito, a professor at Georgetown University and America’s foremost apologist for Islamic fundamentalism. “When you get beyond generalities — Feldman’s empathetic attempt to think like a Muslim reformist — you discover that his real-life ‘Islamic democrats’ are the usual suspects,” Kramer added. “The names and groups mentioned are either part-time ‘moderates,’ or people who have too little influence in their own societies. The part-timers accept that democracy and Islam might be reconciled, up to a point, but they detest democracy’s greatest champion, the United States, and they loathe the one democracy in their midst, Israel.” Without specific reference to Kramer, Feldman dismisses the sometimes vociferous criticism, especially when it relies on historical caricature or springs from political simplicity. “I don’t give a damn about partisan politics,” said Feldman. “The cold war generation is accustomed to seeing good guys and bad guys, and all the bad guys are ‘ists.’ But the reality is, if you look at things in more than good-guy versus bad-guy terms you can cooperate.” In the matter of rhetoric, for example, Feldman suggests that American politicians, of all people, should understand the reluctance of their Muslim counterparts to express gratitude for a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Such reluctance, he said, is proof itself that Iraq’s interim officials — the Baghdad lawyers and politicians now acting on his counsel as they draft their country’s constitution — are viewing a future of democratic elections. “Do you really think gratitude is going to win votes?” asked Feldman. “There are potential constituents out there who don’t have water or electricity, and I actually don’t believe they’re focused on thanking the U.S. for that.” Feldman acknowledged that the delicate synthesis of Islam and democracy he envisions would require “a pretty thorough overhaul of legal institutions” in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. “The judiciary needs retraining, we need to weed out corruption, the police are being retrained now,” he said. “There needs to be a long and serious look taken at the whole body of Iraq statutes, some of which are just fine, with others as amended by Saddam being unacceptable. “Iraq does have a good bar of lawyers, who are eager to play an important role. It’s going to be a slow and expensive process — years, not months.” Feldman said a new generation of American international lawyers, especially those who trouble themselves to study the intricacies of Islamic law and institutions, can help mend the divide between the western and Muslim worlds. “There is actually a growing number of people, lawyers and others roughly my age, who have studied Arabic at high levels and who have spent time in the Middle East,” he said. “Not hundreds of us, but certainly dozens. “Any of them could have made the contribution I’ve been trying to make. They’re in a position to serve, just as I did. I talk to them regularly.”

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