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


ACLS Fellowship Program




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, this project argues that transnational jihadists are engaged in their own form of universalism: these fighters struggle to realize an Islamist vision that transcends racial and cultural difference and is directed at all of humanity. The project reconceptualizes jihad as armed transnational solidarity under conditions of US 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 coreligionists, offering themselves as an alternative to the international community. It highlights the parallels and overlaps between transnational jihads and other universalisms such as the war on terror, United Nations peacekeeping, and socialist non-alignment.