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Call it Daesh, not ISIL (or ISIS)

Sunday 16 October 2016, by siawi3

Source: edition.cnn.com/2016/10/05/opinions/daesh-not-isil-or-islamic-state-khan/

By Zeba Khan

Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT) October 7, 2016

Photos: The ISIS terror threat

Photo: In March 2015, ISIS released video and images of a man being thrown off a rooftop in Raqqa, Syria. In the last photograph, the man is seen face down, surrounded by a small crowd of men carrying weapons and rocks. The caption reads "stoned to death." The victim was brutally killed because he was accused of being gay.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
An Iraqi soldier searches for ISIS fighters in Tikrit on March 30, 2015. Iraqi forces retook the city after it had been in ISIS control since June 2014.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
In May 2015, ISIS took control of Palmyra, Syria, and began to destroy ancient ruins and artifacts. The Temple of Bel is seen here after Syrian forces reclaimed the city in March 2016. ISIS has also destroyed other cultural sites in Syria and Iraq.

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Photos: The ISIS terror threat
Dead bodies lie near a beachside hotel in Sousse, Tunisia, after a gunman opened fire on June 26, 2015. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 38 people and wounded at least 36 others, many of them Western tourists. Two U.S. officials said they believed the attack might have been inspired by ISIS but not directed by it.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
ISIS also claimed responsibility for what it called a suicide bombing at the Al-Sadiq mosque in Kuwait City on June 26, 2015. At least 27 people were killed and at least 227 were wounded, state media reported at the time. The bombing came on the same day as the attack on the Tunisian beach.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
A man inspects the aftermath of a car bombing in Khan Bani Saad, Iraq, on July 18, 2015. A suicide bomber with an ice truck, promising cheap relief from the scorching summer heat, lured more than 100 people to their deaths. ISIS claimed responsibility on Twitter.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
Two women hold hands after an explosion in Suruc, Turkey, on July 20, 2015. The blast occurred at the Amara Cultural Park, where a group was calling for help to rebuild the Syrian city of Kobani, CNN Turk reported. At least 32 people were killed and at least 100 were wounded in the bombing. Turkish authorities said they believed ISIS was involved in the explosion.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
Spectators at the Stade de France in Paris run onto the soccer field after explosions were heard outside the stadium on November 13, 2015. Three teams of gun-wielding ISIS militants hit six locations around the city, killing at least 129 people and wounding hundreds.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
Law enforcement officers search a residential area in San Bernardino, California, after a mass shooting killed at least 14 people and injured 21 on December 2, 2015. The shooters — Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik — were fatally shot in a gunbattle with police hours after the initial incident. The couple supported ISIS and had been planning the attack for some time, investigators said.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
Members of Iraq’s elite counterterrorism unit celebrate December 28, 2015, after recapturing the city of Ramadi. The city fell to ISIS in May 2015.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
Two wounded women sit in the airport in Brussels, Belgium, after two explosions rocked the facility on March 22, 2016. A subway station in the city was also targeted in terrorist attacks that killed at least 30 people and injured hundreds more. Investigators say the suspects belonged to the same ISIS network that was behind the Paris terror attacks in November.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
A boy walks past bloodstains and debris at a cafe in Balad, Iraq, that was attacked by ISIS gunmen on May 13, 2016. Twenty people were killed.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
Iraqi government forces patrol in southern Falluja, Iraq, on June 10, 2016. In late June, a senior Iraqi general announced that the battle to reclaim Falluja from ISIS had been won.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
People flee the scene of a terror attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport on June 29. Turkish officials have strong evidence that ISIS leadership was involved in the planning of the attack, a senior government source told CNN. Officials believe the men — identified by state media as being from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan — entered Turkey from the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria, bringing with them the suicide vests and bombs used in the attack, the source said.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
The ISIS militant group — led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, pictured — began as a splinter group of al Qaeda. Its aim is to create an Islamic state, or caliphate, across Iraq and Syria. It is implementing Sharia law, rooted in eighth-century Islam, to establish a society that mirrors the region’s ancient past. It is known for killing dozens of people at a time and carrying out public executions.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters fire missiles during clashes with ISIS in Jalawla, Iraq, on June 14, 2014. That month, ISIS took control of Mosul and Tikrit, two major cities in northern Iraq.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
Traffic from Mosul lines up at a checkpoint in Kalak, Iraq, on June 14, 2014. Thousands of people fled Mosul after it was overrun by ISIS.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
ISIS fighters parade down an Iraqi street in this image released by the group in July 2014.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
Aziza Hamid, a 15-year-old Iraqi girl, cries for her father while she and other Yazidi people are flown to safety after a dramatic rescue operation at Iraq’s Mount Sinjar on August 11, 2014. A CNN crew was on the flight, which took diapers, milk, water and food to the site where as many as 70,000 people were trapped by ISIS. Only a few of them were able to fly back on the helicopter with the Iraqi Air Force and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
On August 19, 2014, American journalist James Foley was decapitated by ISIS militants in a video posted on YouTube. A month later, they released videos showing the executions of American journalist Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
ISIS militants stand near the site of an airstrike near the Turkey-Syria border on October 23, 2014. The United States and several Arab nations began bombing ISIS targets in Syria to take out the group’s ability to command, train and resupply its fighters.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
A Kurdish marksman stands atop a building as he looks at the destroyed Syrian town of Kobani on January 30, 2015. After four months of fighting, Peshmerga forces liberated the city from the grip of ISIS.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
Safi al-Kasasbeh, right, receives condolences from tribal leaders at his home village near Karak, Jordan, on February 4, 2015. Al-Kasasbeh’s son, Jordanian pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh, was burned alive in a video that was released by ISIS militants. Jordan is one of a handful of Middle Eastern nations taking part in the U.S.-led military coalition against ISIS.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
In February 2015, British newspapers report the identity of "Jihadi John," the disguised man with a British accent who had appeared in ISIS videos executing Western hostages. The militant was identified as Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born Londoner. On November 12, 2015, the Pentagon announced that Emwazi was in a vehicle hit by a drone strike. ISIS later confirmed his death.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
In March 2015, ISIS released video and images of a man being thrown off a rooftop in Raqqa, Syria. In the last photograph, the man is seen face down, surrounded by a small crowd of men carrying weapons and rocks. The caption reads "stoned to death." The victim was brutally killed because he was accused of being gay.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
An Iraqi soldier searches for ISIS fighters in Tikrit on March 30, 2015. Iraqi forces retook the city after it had been in ISIS control since June 2014.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
In May 2015, ISIS took control of Palmyra, Syria, and began to destroy ancient ruins and artifacts. The Temple of Bel is seen here after Syrian forces reclaimed the city in March 2016. ISIS has also destroyed other cultural sites in Syria and Iraq.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
Dead bodies lie near a beachside hotel in Sousse, Tunisia, after a gunman opened fire on June 26, 2015. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 38 people and wounded at least 36 others, many of them Western tourists. Two U.S. officials said they believed the attack might have been inspired by ISIS but not directed by it.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
ISIS also claimed responsibility for what it called a suicide bombing at the Al-Sadiq mosque in Kuwait City on June 26, 2015. At least 27 people were killed and at least 227 were wounded, state media reported at the time. The bombing came on the same day as the attack on the Tunisian beach.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
A man inspects the aftermath of a car bombing in Khan Bani Saad, Iraq, on July 18, 2015. A suicide bomber with an ice truck, promising cheap relief from the scorching summer heat, lured more than 100 people to their deaths. ISIS claimed responsibility on Twitter.

Photos: The ISIS terror threat
Two women hold hands after an explosion in Suruc, Turkey, on July 20, 2015. The blast occurred at the Amara Cultural Park, where a group was calling for help to rebuild the Syrian city of Kobani, CNN Turk reported. At least 32 people were killed and at least 100 were wounded in the bombing. Turkish authorities said they believed ISIS was involved in the explosion.

Call it Daesh, not ISIL (or ISIS)

Zeba Khan: The word "Daesh" actively undercuts the power these militants wish to convey to native speakers
Given what’s at stake, there’s no reason not to refer to the group as Daesh, she says

(CNN)Last week, President Barack Obama held a town hall at which he was asked why he doesn’t use the term "Islamic" terrorism. The president’s explanation was similar to the one he has given in the past — groups like ISIS "have perverted and distorted and tried to claim the mantle of Islam," he explained. As commander-in-chief he does not "want to validate what they do" and potentially alienate Muslim allies in the fight against them.

Zeba Khan
The president is right. Unfortunately, his solution isn’t much better.

Although most of the U.S. media refer to the terrorist group as ISIS or their preferred name, the Islamic State, President Obama almost exclusively refers to them as ISIL, an acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The term Levant is a historical term for Greater Syria, which includes many of the countries on the eastern side of the Mediterranean.
Some conservatives have suggested that Obama’s insistence on using the term ISIL is a strategy to avoid dealing with Syria. Donald Trump called it a tactic to "bother people."
The problem is that whatever his motivation, the term ISIL still validates the terrorists’ claims in the exact way "Islamic" terrorism does.
So, what should President Obama call the group? The same thing most of our allies in the region — and increasingly around the world — call them: Daesh.
Daesh is the Arabic acronym for ISIL. It spells out word for word in Arabic what ISIL spells out in English. But the term Daesh doesn’t carry the same meaning in an Arabic-speaking context as ISIL does in an English-speaking context. In fact, it has the exact opposite effect than the terrorists want.
Acronyms are not common in Arabic as they are in English, so an Arabic acronym as a concept comes off as a weird invention — something that is made up and not real. The acronym can also be seen as a play on words given it is just one letter away from the Arabic word ’daes’ meaning something or someone who crushes or tramples.
So where the idea behind the names ISIS, ISIL, and the Islamic State is to evoke power and authentic religious authority, Daesh as a name undermines those goals in the ears of native Arabic speakers. Muslim satirists in the region have taken advantage of that fact, and are using the term as part of subversive comedic critiques of the militants.
Daesh may technically just be the Arabic acronym for ISIL, but it is a name that actively undercuts the power these militants wish to convey to native speakers. And because each letter represents an Arabic word, it weakens the terrorists’ ability to convey the narrative they want to non-Arabic-speaking audiences as well.

The group is sensitive enough to this aspect of its usage that they’ve threatened to cut the tongues out of anyone who refers to them by Daesh. That alone should be reason enough for the Obama administration to make a complete switch, something I argued back in 2014.
But it’s not just the terrorists who understand the strategic value the name Daesh has for their enemies. Over the past several years, Daesh has become the preferred term of the global community and specifically of our partners in the fight against terror. The leadership of ally countries, including France, the UK, Australia and Turkey, have shifted primarily if not exclusively to using the term Daesh. Last year, Russia also made a complete switch throughout its government and media.
These countries followed the example of heads of state and media in the Middle East as well as non-state actors, such as the Iraqi Kurds, Assyrian Christians, and Syrian activists, one of whom created the acronym in 2013. Larger organizing bodies such as the Arab League also adopted the term.
True, Secretary of State John Kerry uses the term Daesh regularly, particularly when speaking to international audiences. Yet the administration continues to maintain an official policy of using ISIL. And just as the President remarked this past June that the term "radical Islam" serves no military strategy, neither do the names "ISIL," "ISIS," or "IS."

Some commentators believe that because it is an Arabic acronym, Daesh is too difficult or confusing for the American public to understand or say. Some have also suggested that because we’ve been using "ISIL" and "ISIS" for years, it’s too late to change how we talk about them.
But the American people deserve more credit than that. Americans understand the Pashto word "Taliban" and the Arabic word "al Qaeda"* — the U.S. government never felt the need to translate those into their English equivalents, "Students" and "The Base."
And while there may be some confusion initially, if President Obama makes the decision to officially change how his administration talks about these terrorists and explains to the country why he’s doing so as part of our overall strategy, the country will follow.
Given what’s at stake, and the low cost of shifting our language, there’s no reason not to make this change — and plenty of reasons why we should.
As the President said in September 2014, our intention is to "degrade and ultimately destroy" Daesh. That process should begin with denying them the right to choose their own name.

Zeba Khan is a writer focused on how Islam intersects with race, politics, and identity.