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No contemporary figure is more demonized than the Islamist foreign fighter who wages jihad around the world. Spreading violence, disregarding national borders, and rejecting...

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. But in a radical departure from conventional efforts to explain and solve the “problem” of jihad, The Universal Enemy: Jihad, Empire, and the Challenge of Solidarity (Stanford University Press, 2020) begins with the assertion that transnational jihadists are in fact engaged in their own form of universalism: armed transnational solidarity under conditions of American empire.

Drawing on 15 years of interviews and research conducted in Arabic, Bosnian/ Serbian/ Croatian, Urdu, French, and Italian, and following the stories of former fighters across the Middle East, the Balkans, the United States, and Europe, anthropologist and attorney Darryl Li uses the lens of universalism to revisit the pivotal post-Cold War moment when ethnic cleansing in the Balkans dominated global headlines. Highlighting Bosnia-Herzegovina as a battleground of multiple universalisms—socialist Non-Alignment, United Nations peacekeeping, humanitarian intervention, the War On Terror, and the transnational jihads that posed an alternative to American governance—Li urges us to consider what grants claims to universalism their authority and allure.

A historical ethnography from below whose protagonists move between and beneath governments, The Universal Enemy explores the relationship between jihad and American empire, thereby shedding critical light on both.

Darryl Li, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Social Sciences and Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago, is an anthropologist and attorney working at the intersection of war, law, migration, empire, and race with a focus on transregional linkages between the Middle East, South Asia, and the Balkans. Li has participated in litigation arising from the “War on Terror” as party counsel, amicus, or expert witness, including in Guantánamo habeas, Alien Tort, material support, denaturalization, immigration detention, and asylum proceedings. He is a member of the New York and Illinois bars.


Bhoomika Joshi is a doctoral candidate in the department of Anthropology at Yale University.

Nancy Ko is a doctoral student in History at Columbia University, where she examines Jewish philanthropy and racialization in the late- and post-Ottoman Middle East from a global and comparative perspective. She can be reached at nancy.ko@columbia.edu.