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Call it by its proper name: it’s ISIS not ISIL

"ISIS" is the name that best corresponds to the territory the terrorist group actually controls and is the most natural for English usage.

Rhetoric is the first line of interaction between politicians and those they govern or seek to govern. Because of this, it is a matter of great importance. Of the many paramilitary, non-state terrorist groups which are currently threatening the fabric of civilisation in the Arab world, European world and beyond, the group that refer to themselves as the Islamic State are the largest and therefore most dangerous.

Yet few people anywhere in the world refer to these barbarians as the Islamic State as their beliefs have little to do with traditional Sunni Islam and their ‘state’ comprises the illegally conquered provinces of legitimate states, ruled in the most primitive way imaginable.

When it comes to political rhetoric, in an age of mass media and mass literacy, there are two discrete criteria: one must employ words that are factually accurate according to one’s native tongue as well as those which are widely accepted in the colloquial rhetoric of a populace. In the case of the terrorist gang in question, for the English speaking world, there is only one acronym that can logically be used and this is ‘ISIS’.

ISIS stands for The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. This is as accurate a description as one can employ without resorting to the importation of an alien lexicon (something perfectly acceptable amongst academic classes, but less so amongst the populace). The most academically correct acronym for the group in question is Daesh which is derived from the Arabic acronym داعش‎. In its long form in the Latin alphabet this elongates to ‘al-Dawlah al-Islamīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām’.

But any leader who truly is worthy of the term must speak to his people in words and phrases which they are accustomed to. One cannot realistically expect those whose native tongue is English to refer to the death cult as ‘ISIL’, it is insulting and inaccurate. ‘ISIL’ refers to ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and The Levant’. First of all this is a factual fallacy. The Levant refers to a part of the world which currently falls under the borders of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Egypt (according to certain definitions), Jordan, some portions of modern Turkey and even Cyprus. Thankfully ISIS do not control territory in any of these places with the exception of parts of Iraq and parts of Syria. It would be ironic, if it was not tragic,that this group do hold large portions of territory in Libya which is located in the historic Arab region known as the Maghreb, a neighbouring region to the Levant. Perhaps if one wants to be ultimately accurate, one should call the group ISISL (The Islamic State of Iraq, Syria and Libya).

But this would of course violate the second element needed in correct political rhetoric. A political acronym must be familiar and comfortable for speakers of their native tongue. ‘ISIS’ happens to roll off the tongue in English whilst ‘ISIL’ or the even more accurate ‘ISISL’ simply do not. Nor does the academically accurate Daesh.

Donald Trump has quite rightly criticised Barack Obama for referring to the group in question as ‘ISIL’. It is an uncomfortable term with an alien aesthetic which thankfully does not accurately correspond to the territory the group has controlled in recent years. 

Politicians like Barack Obama display a contempt for those they govern (willingly or otherwise) when employing language not heard in everyday conversations. People across the English speaking world condemn ‘ISIS’ far more than ‘ISIL’. This may seem like a small point but in politics, rhetoric is of great importance. It’s one of the reasons Donald Trump has amassed his popularity. He speaks in a way that is readily understood by the majority of people native to his particular tongue. This ought to be a lesson for all politicians in all nations and ethnic spheres.

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