The Universal Enemy: Jihad, Empire, and the Challenge of Solidarity

18 Feb 2021


Announced by the University of Pittsburgh
4 PM Pacific Standard Time

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 this talk Darryl Li, in a radical departure from conventional wisdom on the topic, will argue 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.

Li will re-conceptualize 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 will highlight the parallels and overlaps between transnational jihads and other universalisms such as the War on Terror, United Nations peacekeeping, and socialist Non-Alignment; and explore the relationship between jihad and American empire to shed critical light on both.

SPEAKER: Darryl Li 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 is the author of The Universal Enemy: Jihad, Empire, and the Challenge of Solidarity (Stanford University Press, 2020), which develops an ethnographic approach to the comparative study of universalism using the example of transnational “jihadists” — specifically, Arabs and other foreigners who fought in the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia Herzegovina.

Event Date: 
Thursday, February 18, 2021 - 4:00pm to 5:00pm
Sponsored By: 
UC Santa Barbara