The Universal Enemy
Jihad, Empire, and the Challenge of Solidarity
Stanford Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Societies and Cultures
Published by: Stanford University Press
384 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm
- ISBN: 9781503610873
- Published: December 2019
No contemporary figure is more demonized than the Islamist foreign fighter who wages jihad around the world. Spreading violence, disregarding national borders, and rejecting secular norms, so-called jihadists seem opposed to universalism itself. In a radical departure from conventional wisdom on the topic, The Universal Enemy argues that transnational jihadists are engaged in their own form of universalism: these fighters struggle to realize an Islamist vision directed at all of humanity, transcending racial and cultural difference.
Anthropologist and attorney Darryl Li reconceptualizes jihad as armed transnational solidarity under conditions of American empire, revisiting a pivotal moment after the Cold War when ethnic cleansing in the Balkans dominated global headlines. Muslim volunteers came from distant lands to fight in Bosnia-Herzegovina alongside their co-religionists, offering themselves as an alternative to the US-led international community. Li highlights the parallels and overlaps between transnational jihads and other universalisms such as the War on Terror, United Nations peacekeeping, and socialist Non-Alignment. Developed from more than a decade of research with former fighters in a half-dozen countries, The Universal Enemy explores the relationship between jihad and American empire to shed critical light on both.
The introduction surveys the book's main arguments and conceptual framework in four parts: (1) it situates the Bosnian jihad in the context of US global hegemony in the decades after the Cold War, recognizing that the 1990s Balkan crises need to be considered through global hierarchies of race and not merely ethnicity and nationalism; (2) it introduces an anthropological concept of universalism that stresses lived attempts at translating universalist aspirations into reality in the face of lived difference, and describes how similar debates have played out in international law; (3) it describes the methodology of "ethnographic lawyering"—the author's experiences litigating cases in the Global War on Terror and how they shaped this research; (4) it clarifies some of the definitional and conceptual problems that come with debates around "jihadism" and argues that productive studies of this phenomenon need to center on a critical analysis of empire and state violence.
This chapter traces the historical trajectories that shaped the Bosnian jihad. It highlights the methodological nationalism inherent in debates around "foreign fighters" that take nation-states as the relevant units of analysis of sources or destinations of fighters. In contrast, it follows the transnational routes taken by jihad fighters and treats them as historically grounded in formations of diaspora and empire. It presents a biography of a well-known but often misidentified Arab fighter in Bosnia, tracing his genealogy from the Hadramawt region in Yemen to the Indian city-state of Hyderabad to the Hijaz region of Saudi Arabia. Another fighter, hailing from Morocco and working in Italy before setting for jihad in Bosnia, is also profiled as part of a larger analysis of the role in the jihad played by Arab migrant workers in Italy.
This chapter analyzes the relationship between the foreign jihad fighters and Bosnian Muslims, with a focus on locals who joined the jihad as well as on Bosnian imams who clashed with the foreigners in matters of doctrinal interpretation. It provides a reinterpretation of how nation, state, and religion related in ex-Yugoslavia, demonstrating how Yugoslavia and its official body for administering Islamic affairs underwent parallel processes of "secession from the center" whereby a dominant group seized control of centralized institutions while at the same time participating in their dismantling. The chapter also charts the emergence of "Salafi" texts brought to Bosnia by the jihad fighters, including issues of translation and reprinting.
This chapter unpacks the forms of authority at work in the Bosnian jihad. In contrast to literatures that focus on jihadists as seeking to establish Islamic states or to implement shari'a, it shows that the primary concern for the Bosnian jihad was how to act in solidarity with a much larger local army. Examining the writings of the influential Palestinian jihad theorist 'Abd Allah 'Azzam, the chapter excavates a theory of Islamic authority that can justify armed solidarity across state boundaries without necessarily erasing or displacing states. The chapter then shows how this works in practice by showing how foreign jihad fighters placed themselves under the authority of the Bosnian nation-state without entirely giving up their autonomy. It also traces disputes, tensions, and cooperation with Salafi donors in the Arab Gulf countries, pushing back against the narrative that transnational Islamist fighters are fanatics with no sense of accountability.
This chapter explores how Arab mujahids in Bosnia balanced their pan-Islamist commitments with their lived experiences of difference vis-à-vis each other and Bosnian Muslims. It reviews the problems of "Salafism" as analytical category and shows how the recent focus on piety in the anthropology of Islam, while salutary, has been of limited use in addressing political violence. The chapter examines three types of relationships between Arabs and Bosnians. First, it explores how a multiethnic jihad battalion (often referred to as "the Katiba") cultivated a set of virtues (akhlāq) such as quietness, humility, and gentleness in social interactions. Second, it analyzes kinship, race, and gender in intermarriage between Arab activists and Bosnian women, who were often sisters of their Bosnian comrades. Third, it moves to questions of community, examining the Salafi commune founded by veterans of the Katiba in the village of Bočinja after the war.
This transitional chapter serves as a fulcrum for the overall arc of the book: while the first half sketches the jihad as a universalist project, the second half examines its interaction with larger and more powerful universalist projects. This chapter uses a prisoner exchange between the Arab jihad fighters and Croat forces to explore two issues. First, it analyzes atrocities carried out by Arabs against Croats and Serbs as attempts to create and maintain social ties against groups that went awry, rather than expressing a baseline rejection of the humanity of the other. Second, the chapter explores the ambiguous status of Arabs captured by Croat nationalists during the war, showing how they were migrants first and foremost who could move between aid work and jihad, seeing both as religiously salutary forms of service also plagued by everyday struggles over pay, autonomy, and workplace dignity.
This chapter explores a very different universalist project, namely Non-Alignment in ex-Yugoslavia, which witnessed the arrival of thousands of students from the Arab world from the 1960s through the late 1980s. While typical discussions of Non-Alignment and other forms of socialist transnationalism tend to focus on summitry between statesmen, alternatively reading them between romanticism and cynical dismissal, this chapter emphasizes the importance of studying everyday social links. It traces the experience of Arab students, some of whom settled in Yugoslavia. During the war, some of them ended up playing a crucial role as intermediaries with Islamist organizations in the Middle East, including as interpreters and intermediaries for jihad fighters.
This chapter examines the interactions between the jihad and a far larger and more powerful universalist project in Bosnia, the peacekeeping efforts of the International Community. It traces the continuities between imperial soldiering in contemporary armies that participate heavily in peacekeeping, especially the Pakistani and Indian armies. Against the backdrop of that history, this chapter highlights the negotiations and skirmishes between mujahids and the UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia, including its many Muslim troops. Finally, it tells the story of a British-educated Malaysian army officer who quit the UN force out of frustration with its failures and joined the jihad instead, seeing both as engaged in a common mission. This chapter situates both the emergence of the jihad and north-south tensions within the UN peacekeeping force in a shared history of a Western-driven reorientation of the international legal order in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War.
This chapter traces the US-led globalized hunt for perceived Muslim "foreign fighters." Challenging fashionable theories of sovereignty and exception for their methodological nationalism, this chapter sketches the interlocking relationships of intelligence and police services that both enable and structure the exercise of US hegemony. This chapter follows Arabs in Bosnia (ex-mujahids and others) as they face loss of citizenship, indefinite detention, and deportation to their home countries or to extraterritorial prisons such as at Guantánamo. It also charts the growth of a migration regulation apparatus, including the construction of Bosnia's first immigration detention center and the enactment of harsh new laws, all encouraged by the US and the EU. Finally, it examines the ambivalent human rights advocacy that has emerged to limit the excesses of a resurgent neoliberal security state, including litigation in Bosnian and European courts.
"Focused on the Bosnian jihad and the wider world, both in that era and since, The Universal Enemy is original, authoritative, and broad in significance. This remarkable achievement is anchored in Darryl Li's unique combination of skills and sensibilities, which are at once ethnographic, lawyerly, and linguistic." ~Brinkley Messick, Columbia University
"In this deeply original book, Darryl Li paints a vivid portrait of jihadist universalism and its mobilization both for and against imperial power. Thought-provoking and beautifully written, The Universal Enemy raises important questions about the legalities, conduct, and effects of global violence in all its forms." ~Lauren Benton, Vanderbilt University
"A fascinating and highly readable account of jihad from the perspective of Islamic fighters. The Universal Enemy shows brilliantly that jihad is not a uniform terrorist movement but includes a wide variety of actors, motivations, and ideologies inspired by religion and the aspiration for universality, parallel to other ideologies such as human rights." ~Sally Engle Merry, New York University
"Darryl Li offers superb insight into a figure that shapes so much law and policy but is little understood—the 'universal enemy,' the foreign Muslim fighter. Telling the stories of these mujahids, their motivations and aspirations, with exceptional empathy and detail, he challenges much of what we think we know. The Universal Enemy offers a new and compelling way of understanding universalism and violence, empire and solidarity." ~Anthony Anghie, National University of Singapore and University of Utah
"[This book] stingingly criticizes the field of 'jihadism' as an academic discipline connected to the national security state....Li lets his subjects speak for themselves and casts few judgments. The picture that emerges is a morally complex one." ~Murtaza Hussain, The Intercept
"The Universal Enemy is extraordinary in combining many of the techniques of social science with a sophisticated knowledge of Islamic doctrines and controversies—except that, rather than assuming that religious texts are simply vectors for ideology, he focuses on how they are actually produced and used....[Li] seems to have read everything relevant to his topic and to anticipate many possible counter-arguments." ~Jonathan Benthall, Times Literary Supplement
"The Universal Enemy is a critical and welcome addition to our debates around radicalisation, Islamism and transnational politics." ~Usman Butt, The New Arab
"Li is a gifted writer and storyteller, and his research has amazing breadth....[He] should be commended for a finely crafted plunge into international jihad." ~John Waterbury, Foreign Affairs
"[Li] effectively confronts the demonization of jihadists in the aftermath of 9/11, particularly in the US....The author's linguistic skills and the depth of the interviews are impressive, and the case selection is intriguing. Recommended." ~A. T. Kuru, CHOICE
"[A] provocative and deeply researched new book....The Universal Enemy is the product of difficult and meticulous data collection. I expect that it will be cited as a standard-setting work of qualitative empirical research on political violence." ~Mara Revkin, Lawfare
"This important book offers many insights for scholars and students of political thought, anthropology, and law. Li's breadth and acumen in navigating these different fields of study is impressive....[The Universal Enemy] offers a vital contribution to the literature on jihad and universalism, and will undoubtedly furnish its readers with critical tools to approach both with fresh perspectives." ~Pınar Kemerli, Political Theory
"As an original study of transregional mobility and political belonging, Li's anthropological take on international law and history of empire upsets common assumptions about the politics of identity and solidarity in the context of contemporary warfare....[A] work of breathtaking reach and intrigue, The Universal Enemy explores how political identities form and collide through claims of belonging to a project larger than oneself." ~Anna Simone Reumert, MERIP
"The Universal Enemy is a timely intervention into political as well as scholarly debates....The story of the Bosnian Jihad continues to influence a wide range of seemingly incommensurable projects and seems to pre-figure aspects of current debates about the nature of rights and the limits of legitimate coercion. Li's ambition in trying to theorize these complexly interwoven threads together should be commended." ~Geoff Hughes, Political Theology
"[At] once a methodology, an ethics, and a praxis....[The Universal Enemy] presents a challenge not only to the scholarly and policy expertise produced about 'terrorism' and 'jihad,' but also to the very practice of academic and political 'theorizing' about them in the first place.." ~C. Heike Schotten, Contemporary Political Theory
"This is an important and singular book, one that can be recommended to anyone interested in jihad, Bosnia, the GWOT, race and difference in Europe, or universalism... The Universal Enemy succeeds in illuminating these lived projects and enmeshments and making clear why, and how, they matter for us all." ~Nadia El-Shaarawi, International Journal of Middle East Studies