By Olivia Ward
Mar 03 2016
Everyone knows Al Qaeda, but most people have forgotten it means “the base.” Boko Haram, which kills and kidnaps schoolchildren, means, unsurprisingly, “Western education is forbidden.”
But the term that makes politicians, pundits and journalists slap their foreheads is Islamic State — or the awkward acronyms ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.)
That’s because the criminal gang that has murdered, raped and pillaged its way across the Middle East, while sending sycophants to slaughter civilians abroad, is neither Islamic nor an internationally recognized state.
So as of today, the Toronto Star is switching to the title Daesh: in long form Arabic, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham.
Daesh itself has abandoned the shortened term because it is too close to the Arabic words that mean “one who crushes underfoot,” or “sowers of discord.” It’s also similar to the word for bigot.
Those are much closer to the truth, and have the added benefit that “Daesh” also insults, rather than flatters, the group. So outraged is Daesh at the label that it reportedly threatened to “cut the tongue” of anyone who used it, instead of its self-styled full name.
“These people are a huge multinational gang of killers and rapists — they have no legitimacy as a state and this name change helps emphasize that,” said the Star’s Editor-in-chief Michael Cooke, in announcing the change.
The switch to Daesh has already been adopted by politicians.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been using the term since 2014, although Washington’s official title is still ISIL. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron went so far as to tell the House of Commons that the country should drop other terms and use only Daesh.
French President François Hollande has endorsed the term, and many Middle Eastern countries refer to the militants as Daesh. “Arabic speakers spit out the name Daesh with different mixtures of contempt, ridicule and hostility,” Britain’s former ambassador to Iraq, Simon Collis, told the Guardian.
But many major media organizations have resisted changing a name that now has instant public recognition. They include the BBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post.
They maintain that readers and viewers would be confused by the transition, although the original name and acronyms appear to lend recognition to the group’s claim of statehood, and of representing Islam. Something the overwhelming number of Muslims rejects.
Media style-setter The Associated Press uses “Islamic State group” as a way out of the dilemma. Adding “group,” it says, makes it clear that it is a gang not a state. The BBC has added “so-called” to Islamic State. Others use “self-styled.”
Amira Elghawaby of the National Council of Canadian Muslims says it’s important to go farther. She writes in the Star that there is an “almost immediate spike in anti-Muslim attacks and incidents reported to police” after any terrorist attack by a group claiming to represent Islam: a polarizing effect that is one of Daesh’s aims. And in a country that values its multicultural identity, one more reason to make the change.