Bob Schwartz

Tag: IS

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

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.

A World Worth Saving

Xul Solar - Puerto Azul

People are justifiably angry, frustrated, and confused when those with all the “advantages” of Western Europe and the United States join violent apocalyptic movements in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. But maybe we can learn a little by asking some related questions: Do these fighters believe the world is worth saving? Do your fellow citizens, friends, and neighbors believe it? Do you?

Almost by definition, those who are convinced to join movements aimed at turning the world upside down believe that the world as it is is beyond repair, and that the world as it is is not worth saving.

What might surprise you, if you think about it, is how many of the people around you, people you know, believe exactly the same thing. They don’t go halfway around the world to kill mercilessly to hasten the end of the status quo. But they do believe that this world is irreparably broken, that many other people (maybe even you) are complicit in maintaining and encouraging that disrepair—in feeding the beast—and that nothing short of the quickest possible end to this world will bring them to the rightness of that world.

We don’t talk much about whether this world is worth saving. There are those true believers just mentioned who think there is nothing to talk about, that it is dogmatic and axiomatic that this world is as good as gone. For others, it can be a bunch of words, about how we will make the ultimate sacrifice to preserve “the American way of life” or “freedom,” as if those were so self-evident that discussion would be at best useless and at worst seditious.

We have to talk about it, not just assume or demand the automatic answer “of course it’s worth saving.” One of the reasons we don’t talk about it is that we would have to think about it, and that is not easy or comfortable. We would, among other discomforts, have to admit shortcomings, some very serious.

When we don’t talk, we end up with some people easily persuaded that maybe this world is so broken that we should start creating a different one, even apocalyptically. That’s the bad news, ripped from today’s headlines.

The good news is that if we did talk about whether the world is worth saving, honestly, without dogma, with no “wrong” answers, we would almost certainly conclude that—with some minor and major adjustments—it is. It’s just getting to that conclusion that can be so difficult.