Leonard Binder's Islamic Liberalism: A Critique of Development Ideologies is the most sophisticated Western study of the relationship between Islam and society in the modern Arab world to appear in the United States recently. Binder maintains that liberalism is not only rational, universal, and politically feasible, but it is the only alternative to the political and moral predicament of the Third World, especially the Muslim world.
Binder claims that his main goal behind writing a book on "Islamic liberalism" is to help Muslim intellectuals produce "a liberal Islamic discursive formation which poses a challenge to the existing scripturalist and fundamentalist alternatives." Modern Muslim theologians and thinkers are aware of the Straussian distinction between political philosophy and political theology. According to Leo Strauss,  political theology is made up of those teachings that are based on divine revelation, whereas political philosophy is limited to what is accessible to the unassisted human mind. Western political philosophy rejects any divine intervention in the historical and political process. Political philosophy, as advanced by Binder, is based on the notion that the best context for political action is that of a democracy. Therefore, according to this view, the main assumptions, trends, and manifestations of political philosophy are sustained by a democracy.
Binder contends that liberalism, as a political philosophy and Western ideological formation, is viable in the contemporary Muslim world, especially in the Middle East. He points out that "political liberalism can exist only where and when its social and intellectual prerequisites exist ... These preconditions already exist in the Middle East."  Political liberalism rests on the fundamental assumption of the state‑religion separation. Although the latter has been a de facto reality in many Middle East societies, Muslim theorists of contemporary state and politics have not appropriated it yet.
It is clear that Binder does not question the inherent notions of superiority underlying modernization theories. He argues that modernization theory is only "an academic transfer of the dominant, and ideologically significant paradigm employed in research on the American political system." Classical as well as contemporary American moderni≠zation theorists have only recently begun to take into account the importance of Islam as a cultural system and an ideological social phenomenon. For a long while, the only factors considered were education, urbanization, media exposure, and economic productivity. As a result, modernization theorists, including Binder, have failed to present an adequate formulation of the relationship between Islam and society in the post‑colonial phase. In one sense, Binder "atomizes"  Islam to such an extent where he holds the comfortable notion that "Islam in its various forms, and categories, and applications, is only a part of Middle East culture, and by itself accounts for little." Such an inaccurate statement makes one doubt the coherence and vitality of a `liberal project' in an Islamic context.
One of Binder's implicit assumptions is that Western liberalism has been a major cause behind the transition of the modern Arab world from "the closed society" to "the open society." Binder contends along the same lines of the famous "open society" theoretician, Karl Popper,  that the main characteristics of "closed society" are defined by its organic ties, tribal and collectivist mentality, lack of individuality, and religious rigidity. The open (liberal) society, on the other hand, is marked by individuality, freedom of expression, rationalism, social mobility, and a critical appraisal of social reality. In other words, according to Binder, liberalism has assisted modern Arab society in maintaining a degree of tolerance and openness to outside influences. Furthermore, the transition from the "closed society" to the open one signals a total breakdown of tribalism and religious rigidity. Then, to Binder's mind, any reaction against liberalism in the modern Arab World, either in the form of "Islamic fundamentalism" or anti‑Western nationalism, is, in fact, a reaction against socio‑economic progress, and the scientific culture of the Western civilization. One can, therefore, theorize that Binder's political project for the Muslim Middle East is superimposed from the outside since it fails to express the aspirations of Muslims as people.
. See Leo Strauss, What is Political Philosophy? (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).
. Leonard Binder, Islamic Liberalism: A Critique of Development Ideologies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), p.102.
. In one of his major studies on modern Islam, Hamilton Gibb argues that the Arab‑Islamic mind is atomistic. Consult, Hamilton Gibb, Modern Trends in Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947), especially chapter one.
. Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, two volumes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962).