Daesh or Islamic State: What’s in a name?

Friday 08/04/2016
Iraqi demonstrators march across Arabic writing that reads “Daesh”.

London - “We believe that ISIL or Daesh is now beginning to lose. We see them in a defen­sive crouch,” coalition spokesman US Army Colonel Steve Warren said during a recent visit to Britain, us­ing both the UK and US designation for the Islamic State, or ISIS.
The British government made the decision to call the group Daesh in September 2015. Speaking before parliament, British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “I feel it’s time to join our key ally France, the Arab League and other members of the international community in using… the terminology ‘Daesh’ because this evil death cult is neither a true representation of Islam nor is it a state.”
“Daesh” has become an increas­ingly accepted name for ISIS, which had previously been known as ei­ther the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in West­ern media.
ISIS rebranded itself as the “Is­lamic State” in June 2014 after it consolidated its hold on territory in Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate. Many governments and media outlets initially took up the new name for the sake of expedi­ency and to draw a line under the confusion of the group’s name, al­though this has now been followed by a move to promote the “Daesh” designation.
France decided to officially call the group “Daesh” in September. “This is a terrorist group and not a state. I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Mus­lims and Islamists,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
“The Arabs call it Daesh and I will be calling them the Daesh cut-throats,” he added.
“Daesh” is the acronym of the group’s name in Arabic — Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi Al-Iraq wa al-Sham or the Islamic State in Iraq and Al Sham (an area roughly equivalent to the Levant). However, ISIS pre­fers to call itself simply Al-Dawla — “The State” — and has disavowed the term “Daesh”, punishing those who use it.
A number of Mosul residents told the Associated Press that ISIS fight­ers threatened to cut the tongue out of anyone who used the term “Daesh”, instead of referring to the group by its full name. A video was published in February showing a boy in western Iraq receiving 60 lashes for referring to the group as “Daesh”.
In addition to detracting from the group’s claimed “Islamic” iden­tity, “Daesh”, in Arabic at least, also brings to mind the root word da’s, which means to “crush” or “trample” and is reportedly hated by members of the group. Arabic’s complex conjugation system af­fords its speakers an ability to use the term “Daesh” in a variety of dif­ferent ways, none complimentary.
Many analysts say it is important to differentiate between Islam and the terrorist group, which main­stream Muslims maintain has noth­ing to do with their interpretation of the religion, particularly at a time when Islamophobia is on the rise in the West.
“It is imperative that Islamic State is not granted the legitimacy that referring to it as ‘the’ Islamic State would give; it is not a state, nor, ar­guably, is it Islamic,” a report by UK anti-extremist think-tank Quilliam said.
Questions surrounding the group’s name and Muslim attempts to differentiate ISIS from main­stream Islam have been on the rise since the group announced its ca­liphate, with a number of alterna­tives being put forward.
Dar Al-Ifta, responsible for issu­ing religious edicts in Egypt, which has its own ISIS franchise in the Si­nai peninsula, has said the group should not be referenced as “ISIS” or “Daesh”.
Egyptian Grand Mufti Shawki Al­lam in August 2014 proposed that ISIS should be referred to as “al- Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria” — QSIS.
“The initiative by Dar Al-Ifta came to express the institution’s rejection of many stereotypes that attach the name of Islam to bloody and violent acts committed by such groups,” Ibrahim Negm, an adviser to the grand mufti, told Al Arabiya News.
“We are afraid that such incorrect stereotypes will be rooted in the minds of Muslims and non-Muslims alike,” he added.
A group of leading British imams petitioned the government in 2014 to adopt the usage of the term the “Un-Islamic State” or UIS.
“We shall take every opportunity to continue to say clearly and loudly ‘not in our name’ and ‘not in our faith,’” a statement read.
Whether ISIS, ISIL, IS or Daesh, the way that politicians and media outlets refer to the group is impor­tant in shaping public perceptions of Islam, particularly in the West, but is nothing compared to the physical battle that is taking place in Iraq and Syria to erase the group, and its name, from existence.