The Universal Enemy

In this forum, leading scholars of global history, law, religion, anthropology, and politics discuss Darryl Li’s recent book The Universal Enemy: Jihad, Empire, and the Challenge of Solidarity (Stanford University Press, 2019).

As author Darryl Li writes in his introductory essay for this forum: “In recent decades, no figure has incited as much discourse and elicited as little insight as the so-called ‘jihadi’—especially those traveling across borders to fight in the name of a global Muslim community. The Universal Enemy is, most concretely, an exploration of one such transnational jihad: the peregrination of several thousand Arabs and other Muslims who fought alongside their co-religionists in the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It tells a story of how these combatants navigated national, racial, and doctrinal differences in service of a pan-Islamic vision, drawing on over a decade of ethnographic interviews and archival research in a half-dozen countries in Arabic, Bosnian, and several other languages.

Despite the ample commentary on ‘jihadism,’ The Universal Enemy aspires to model a different sensibility and set different standards in approaching the topic. Specifically, this is a book that seeks to break free from the gravitational pull of the national security mindset, studying adversaries of the state but with no desire to advise it. And, perhaps more directly relevant for many readers of The Immanent Frame, the book also eschews the defensiveness and apologia that characterize even much of the critical writing on Muslims and the War on Terror. It does this by refusing to reduce the category of jihad to mere violence and instead uses this particular jihad to think about universalism.”