What’s in a Name: War with Daesh aka ISIS, ISIL, IS

by Bob Schwartz

More than a year ago, I posted twice about the different names being used at the highest levels for the current and very evil movement in the Middle East (here and here).

Rather than clearing that matter up, a new name has just been added to the list: Daesh.

The name Daesh, according to France24, is a “loose acronym” for “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham). The name is commonly used by enemies of ISIS, and it also has many negative undertones, as Daesh sounds similar to the Arabic words Daes (“one who crushes something underfoot”) and Dahes (“one who sows discord”).

I first heard this new name watching the British House of Commons debate the U.K. commitment to the fight. Prime Minister David Cameron kept referring to “Daesh…Daesh”, and it became clear from the context that he was talking about ISIS/ISIL/IS. One MP thanked him for the new vocabulary, pointing out that the BBC had not yet agreed to use the new correct terminology.

This issue of a pathological movement to establish a new Muslim caliphate is a very serious matter. Especially as it involves the possibility not only of more horrific violence, but of the engagement of many nations—including the U.S.—in that fight.

But there is something just slightly ridiculous about world leaders sitting around a table, each one using a different name for the enemy (we now have seven, if you count the full names and the acronyms). Given what happened in Parliament, it is possible to envision such high level global arguments about what to call the enemy and why.

One thing we know from history. If you are having trouble agreeing on the tiniest details, such as the shape of a negotiating table, the chances of reaching some sort of sane, enlightened, and hopefully effective outcome are not that great.

So whatever else, let us plead with politicians around the world, and the media who cover them, to settle on one name. Before somebody comes up with yet another one.

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