The Universal Enemy: Jihad, Empire, and the Challenge of Solidarity
By Darryl Li
Stanford University Press, 2019, 384 pp.
Li sees the global “war on terror” as a clash of competing universalist visions. In this provocative book, he explores how jihadis and other Islamists develop their projects. He draws from his fieldwork in Bosnia with Muslim Bosniaks and with foreign, mainly Arab fighters who came to the Balkans during the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and remained beyond 9/11. Li is a gifted writer and storyteller, and his research has amazing breadth. Jihadi universalism jostled with other belief systems in Bosnia, including those promulgated by international peacekeeping missions, the “war on terror,” and the Non-Aligned Movement (which was headquartered during the Cold War in Yugoslavia). But universalism is an awkward framework for understanding what drove holy warriors to Bosnia in the first place. Li’s analysis leaves unexamined the overwhelmingly Sunni composition of the foreign Arab fighters. He doesn’t delve into the particularities of Bosniak Islam or consider the role of the Ottoman Empire in shaping religious practices and belief in the region. Despite these omissions, Li should be commended for a finely crafted plunge into international jihad.