The Bosnian War, Jihad, and American Empire

Episode 459

In this episode, anthropologist and lawyer Darryl Li discusses his new book The Universal Enemy: Jihad, Empire, and the Challenge of Solidarity. Based on ethnographic and archival research, the work explores the Bosnian jihad, in which several thousand Muslim volunteers ventured to the area to fight in response to the mass atrocities against Muslims in the midst of the Bosnian War of 1992 to 1995. Through this lens, Li critically engages with many of the omnipresent yet unexamined concepts associated with Muslim mobility and jihad. Or, as he pithily put it, he aimed "to write a book about jihad that didn't suck." With this goal in mind, he offers a perspective on the Bosnian jihad on its own terms. Highlighting the jihad as a universalist project, he moreover reveals unexpected intersections, including everything from South-South legacies of the Non-Aligned Movement to Habsburg Neo-Moorish design confused for Ottoman architecture to Sufi-Salafi alliances. He also grapples with the long shadows cast on Muslim mobility by the US-created global network of prisons in the context of the Global War on Terror.   

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Contributor Bios

Darryl Li is an assistant professor of anthropology and lecturer in law at the University of Chicago and an attorney licensed in New York and Illinois.
Sam Dolbee is a postdoctoral fellow in the Program in Agrarian Studies at Yale University. He completed his PhD at New York University in 2017. His research is on the environmental history of the Jazira region in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Matthew Ghazarian is a Ph.D. Candidate in Columbia University's Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, African Studies. His research focuses on the intersections of sectarianism, humanitarianism, and famine in central and eastern Anatolia between 1839 and 1893.

Further Listening
András Riedlmayer 305
Documenting the Destruction of Balkan Waqf Institutions
Dženita Karić 406
Bosnian Comrades on Hajj
Leyla Amzi-Erdoğdular 198
Late Ottoman Bosnia and the Imperial Afterlife
Elizabeth Perego 279
Dark Humor from Algeria's "Dark Decade"


Episode No. 459
Release Date: 15 April 2020
Recording Location: Cambridge, MA
Audio editing by Sam Dolbee and Chris Gratien
Music: Zé Trigueiros, "Petite Route," "Sombra"; Kai Engel, "Illumination"; Blue Dot Sessions, "Our Only Lark"
Images and bibliography courtesy of Darryl Li


Cover image of The Universal Enemy, depicting the 1995 Battle of Vozuća, by Omar Khouri

Lukavica Immigration Center, Bosnia Herzegovina Service for Foreigners Affairs.
Lukavica Immigration Center, Bosnia Herzegovina Service for Foreigners Affairs.

Abu Hamza, a Syrian who had come to Yugoslavia for medical training in the 1980s before joining the jihad, was one of those former fighters held in Lukavica detention center. He made the connection between his detention and Guantanamo explicit in his orange Bosnatamo garb. His family circulated the image in an effort to gain support for his release. The caption reads: "After two years in PRISON in the Immigration Center, we have nothing more to say: THE PEOPLE KNOW."

Abu 'Abd al-'Aziz, one of the best-known of the foreign mujahidin to fight in Bosnia, in Newsweek magazine. His stature derived in part from an echo chamber of English-language "terror experts" who insisted that he was a prominent member of Al-Qa'ida. Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Sygma via Getty Images.

There are no national borders on a map depicting the global flow of fighters to Bosnia-Herzegovina on a monument to mujahidin at Livade cemetery.  Photo by Darryl Li.

A visit to the cemetery of the mujahidin in Livade with Ayman, a Syrian veteran of the jihad who initially came to Yugoslavia in the 1980s to study medicine. The monument to the mujahidin consists of the map depicted in the above image. The cylindrical grave markers in the background are typically associated with Salafi understandings of Islam, and are in contrast to more widespread burial practices among Bosnian Muslims, emblematic, Li argues, of some of the challenges of accommodating local difference within the broader universal project of jihad. Photo by Darryl Li.

Ayman with violets outside of Livade cemetery. Photo by Darryl Li. 

Select Bibliography

Abdul Manaf Kasmuri. Kolonel jihad: antara mitos dan realiti. Kuala Lumpur: Nur Ilham, 2010.
Amzi-Erdoğdular, Leyla. "Afterlife of Empire: Muslim-Ottoman Relations in Habsburg Bosnia Herzegovina, 1878-1914." PhD thesis, Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies, Columbia University, 2013.

ʿAzzām, ʿAbd Allāh. Āyāt al-raḥmān fī jihād al-Afghān. Second ed. Amman: Maktabat al-Risāla al-Ḥadītha, 1986[1983]. / Azam, Abdullah. Allahovi znakovi u afganistanskom džihadu. s.l., s.a.[1983] [electronic book].

ʿAzzām, ʿAbd Allāh. Al-difāʿ ʿan arāḍī al-Muslimīn: ahamm furūḍ al-aʿyān. Second ed. Amman: Maktabat al-Risāla al-Ḥadītha, 1987.

Baker, Catherine. Race and the Yugoslav Region: Postsocialist, Post-Conflict, Postcolonial? Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018.

Barādarān, Maryam. R. Isfahan: Ārmā, 2017.

Bondžić, Dragomir. Misao bez pasoša: međunarodna saradnja Beogradskog univerziteta 1945-1960. Belgrade: Institut za savremenu istoriju, 2011.

Bringa, Tone. Being Muslim the Bosnian Way: Identity and Community in a Central Bosnian Village. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Hajdarpasic, Edin. Whose Bosnia?: Nationalism and Political Imagination in the Balkans, 1840-1914. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015.

Ḥamza, Amīr. Bosniyā ke ʿArab shuhadāʾ. Lahore: Dār al-Andalus, 2008.

Mehtić, Halil, and Hasan Makić. Upute muslimanskom borcu. Zenica: Ured Mešihata Islamske zajednice, 1993.

Mesarič, Andreja. "Wearing Hijab in Sarajevo: Dress Practices and the Islamic Revival in Post-War Bosnia-Herzegovina." Anthropological Journal of European Cultures 22, no. 2 (2013): 12-34.
el-Misri, Imad. Shvatanja koja trebamo ispraviti. Travnik: Islamski Centar Travnik, 1993.

Munīf, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān. "Taqdīm: Īvū Andrītsh wa-ḥikāyāt min al-Būsna." In Ivo Andrić, Ḥikāyāt min al-Būsna, 5-22. Beirut: Al-Muʾassasa al-ʿArabiyya lil-dirāsāt wal-nashr, 1996.

Naqqāsh, Muḥammad Ṭāhir. Bosniyā ke jihādī maidānoñ meñ. Lahore: Dār al-Iblāgh, 2002.
Qaṭarī, Ḥamad, and Mājid al-Madanī. Min qiṣaṣ al-shuhadāʾ al-ʿArab fil-Būsna wal-Harsak. 2002 [electronic book].

Sorabji, Cornelia K. "Muslim Identity and Islamic Faith in Sarajevo." PhD thesis, Anthropology, King's College, Cambridge University, 1989.

Subotić, Jelena, and Srđan Vučetić. "Performing Solidarity: Whiteness and Status-Seeking in the Non-Aligned World." Journal of International Relations and Development (2017).
Tekin, Mehmet Ali. Bosna Şehidlerimiz. Istanbul: Beka Yayınları, 2014.

Toal, Gerard, and Carl Dahlman. Bosnia Remade: Ethnic Cleansing and Its Reversal. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Vah Jevšnik, Mojca. Building Peace for a Living: Expatriate Development Workers in Kosovo. Ljubljana: Slovenian Migration Institute, 2009.


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