When we first heard of this offshoot from Al Qaeda in Iraq a few years back they were often referred to as ISIL – this was a translation, of sorts, of Islamic State in the Levant. That is the now rather quaint expression for Lebanon and Syria from French colonial times. Go back further and it becomes synonymous with the whole coastal region from Lebanon to Libya.
About a year ago ISIL began to change to ISIS. The Obama administration and the US media started to use that term. This is partly because the Arabic word for the Levant, is al Shams, so Islamic State of Al Shams could be ISIS. But then last summer the group re branded themselves IS – Islamic State.
And therein lies a problem, critics say they are neither Islamic nor a state. Well, they are underpinned by their version of Islam, but putting that to one side, they have not yet got a seat at the United Nations and are clearly not a state. So, what to call them
By the middle of the summer of 2014 the Arab leaders, and most of the Arab media, were routinely referring to Daesh. There are two reasons for this: One – it’s an acronym of sorts for the Arabic – – الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام which is ‘Dawlat’ – State, ‘al Islamiya’ – Islam, ‘Iraq’ – Iraq, ‘Wa’ – And, and ‘al Shams’ – the Levant. But the second reason Arabs across the Middle East call Daesh – Daesh is because Daesh absolutely hates it!
Arab friends tell the W&Y that Daesh sounds similar to the verb ‘Daes’ – one who sows dissent.
More importantly it rhymes with negative words such as Fahish – a sinner, and, best of all, for those who don’t care for this particular group’s brand of Islam, is that it rhymes with, and sounds a bit like, Jahesh – Stupid Ass. This is worse than being called a donkey because in Arab culture one of the few things more stupid than a donkey is an Ass.
Few in the West have caught on yet – The French foreign Minister Laurent Fabius uses it arguing that “This is a terrorist group not a state. I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims, and Islamists”. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott concurs saying “What they don’t like has an instinctive appeal to me”.
The linguistic battle is on, and as Daesh knows – words, and terms, matter.