From the start, exactly what to call the rebel group that has taken over much of Syria and Iraq has been problematic. At first, many called it the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). However, due to differences over how the name should be translated from the Arabic, some (including the U.S. government) referred to them as ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).
To make matters more complicated, the group later announced that it should simply be called the “Islamic State” – a reference to the idea that the group was breaking down state borders to form a new caliphate. A number of media groups, including The Post, the Associated Press and, eventually, the New York Times, adopted this name, while others stuck with ISIS and ISIL.
Now the French have added another complication. On Monday, the French government released a statement that included a reference to the group under a different name: “Daesh.”
France had hinted that it would begin using this term – how the group is referred to in much of the Arab world – before, but this week appears to be the first time that the country has used it in official communications.
“This is a terrorist group and not a state,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters last week, according to France 24. “I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims and Islamists. The Arabs call it ‘Daesh’ and I will be calling them the ‘Daesh cutthroats.’ ”
That logic is certainly understandable, and the French aren’t alone in bristling at the idea that a rebel group gets to take the moniker “Islamic State.”
Last month, Egypt’s leading Islamic authority, Dar al-Ifta, called on the world’s media to stop using the term, instead suggesting a new term: “al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria” or 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 Egyptian grand mufti Shawqi Allam, told al-Arabiya News.
And a group of British imams recently called on British Prime Minister David Cameron to stop calling the group “Islamic State,” making a request for a new moniker, “Un-Islamic State,” instead. “We do not believe the terror group responsible should be given the credence and standing they seek by styling themselves Islamic State,” a letter sent from the imams to Cameron read, according to the Guardian. “It is neither Islamic, nor is it a state.
Despite the admirable French logic, Daesh comes with its own complications. As historian and blogger Pieter van Ostaeyen noted back in February, that the word is a transliteration of an Arabic word, an acronym for al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham (which is itself a transliteration of the group’s Arabic name). There are a variety of different schools of transliteration, and there are a number of different styles for writing the Arabic acronym in Latin characters: The Washington Post uses DAIISH, but DAASH, DAIISH and DAISH are also used.
However it’s spelled, there’s another big factor: The group is reported to hate the moniker.
The Associated Press recently reported that the group were threatening to cut cut out the tongues of anyone who used the phrase publicly, and AFP have noted that the term “Daeshi” has been used a derogatory term in some parts of the Middle East. Some analysts have suggested that the dislike of the term comes from its similarity to another Arabic word, Das. That word means to trample down or crush. Washington Post