Now a professor at Harvard Law, Noah Feldman was tasked with helping frame the new Iraqi constitution shortly after this TED talk from 2003.
Feldman says that for Muslims, the ideas in Islam of God being sovereign, and humanity being equal because of that sovereignty, can be a starting point for Muslim democracy. Interestingly, Tocqueville observed that in the American (largely Christian) context of the 19th century, Christianity’s tenets about God’s sovereignty and humanity’s resultant equality where in fact the lynch pins of the democratic spirit. Feldman is a sort of hopeful Tocqueville in this way; 10 years ago, he reported the seeds of the same kinds of things Tocqueville saw firmly rooted. How are those seeds fairing now, I wonder? That’s not a cynical question; my sense is that most of us in the West have no real clue about the facts on the ground in Islamic contexts.
As hopeful and compelling as this old talk may be, Feldman’s impact on the Iraqi constitution are unclear. Wikipedia doesn’t know if he was reassigned or quit shortly after arriving in Baghdad.
As for another point in the talk: I’ve said here and elsewhere that the Bible is best understood by the faithful and in general as an important artifact, a collection of witnesses, even, not as a divination rod or source of religious proof-texts. Feldman’s broader observation that religion (and politics) are kinds of technologies is line with what I’ve been thinking. Religion as such is a system by which groups hope to deliver certain ends, services, experiences, or goods. So is politics. Both often stand far apart from what I think Jesus meant when he used terms like “kingdom” and “God.”