[Transsystemic Law] Black Beards and Blue Helmets: Jihad, Peace-keeping, and the Question of Universalism


[Transsystemic Law] Black Beards and Blue Helmets: Jihad, Peace-keeping, and the Question of Universalism


[Transsystemic Law] Black Beards and Blue Helmets: Jihad, Peace-keeping, and the Question of Universalism

(This event was organised by MEI’s Transsystemic Law Research Cluster, as part of its quarterly public talks series.)


The 1992-1995 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was a defining moment of the post-Cold War order, pivotal to the development of UN peacekeeping and the project of European integration. Less well-explored is Bosnia’s significance throughout the Muslim world and the numerous solidarity efforts that emerged during the war. As a predominantly Muslim country in Europe, Bosnia presented opportunities and dilemmas for universalist projects in both the West and the Muslim world. This paper traced two of the most important attempts to embody Islamic solidarity with Bosnia and their respective relationships to international law and legal institutions: foreign volunteers in the Bosnian army (“mujahidin”) and military units seconded to the United Nations peacekeeping forces by predominantly Muslim countries, such as Pakistan, Egypt, and Turkey. This paper was part of a broader project to move away from a Eurocentric conversation on the Balkans crisis by connecting it to histories of empire, race, religion, and Non-Alignment.  It showed how both migratory movements for jihad as well as peacekeeping forces from the global south are embedded in colonial histories and presents a set of views of the Bosnia crisis that are neither those of the Eurocentric “International Community” nor that of the local population. It was based on 13 months of ethnographic research in Bosnia with Bosnian, Arab, and other ex-fighters, as well as interviews in Egypt, France, Pakistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, United States, and Yemen. It also made extensive use of the archives of the United Nations peacekeeping force in ex-Yugoslavia and the trial records of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia.

Event Details
Date & Time

Assistant Prof Darryl Li
University of Chicago

MEI Conference Room, Level 6
Block B, 29 Heng Mui Keng Terrace
Singapore 119620

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Benyamin Haidhar
Robert Kimmel
Lutfi Othman
Teck Kheong Looi
Alethea Woo
Ghina Abdul
Dinah Nazurah
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Huda Aljunied
James M. Dorsey

About the Speaker(s)

Darryl Li is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago and is writing a book under contract with Stanford University Press called The Universal Enemy: Jihad and Empire After the Cold War. His research has been published in Law & Social Inquiry, UCLA Law Review, Columbia Human Rights Law ReviewArab Studies Journal, and Middle East Report, and has been supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Social Science Research Council (USA). He holds a PhD in Anthropology & Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University and a JD from Yale Law School and is a member of the New York and Illinois bars.

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