In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, the world has woken up to the threat that the ‘self-proclaimed Islamic State’ poses to the Western world. Among other things, it has sparked a discussion about what we should call ISIS, as the twisted ideology of the group is neither ‘Islamic,’ nor represents a ‘state.’
In the past, we at the Kurdish Project, have used the term, ‘the self-proclaimed Islamic State,’ implying that the terrorists are the only ones who consider themselves to be an ‘Islamic’ State. However, we believe that this term gives these terrorists too much credibility.
Moving forward, we will be referring to these terrorists as the rest of the Muslim world does, by calling them ‘Daesh’ (pronounced dah-esh), an Arabic acronym for ISIS that sounds like ‘daes’ — the Arabic word for “something or someone that crushes or tramples.”
But what are the origins of the word ‘Daesh,” and why do these pseudo-Islamic terrorists hate the term?
Neither ‘Islamic’ nor a ‘State’
A lot of news organizations use ‘Islamic State’ or ‘the Islamic State’ for a simple reason: It’s what the group calls itself, and accuracy is important.
But politicians and governments generally don’t. They’ve got some pretty good reasons: Calling it the Islamic State helps ISIS sell its message, and helps insult Muslims to boot.
British Prime Minister David Cameron says that the name ‘Islamic State’ causes Muslim audiences to “recoil every time they hear [it].” Rather, says Cameron, the group should be called by the derogatory name ‘Daesh’ — an Arabic acronym for ISIS that sounds like ‘daes’ — the Arabic word for “something or someone that crushes or tramples.”
Islamic State v. Daesh
The name ‘Islamic State,’ as opposed to ‘ISIS’ or ‘Daesh,’ is at its heart a propaganda tool. By claiming to be an Islamic caliphate, ISIS is implying that it’s the only state true Muslims should obey: Around the world, they should pledge loyalty to the one and only Islamic State. This message is part of how ISIS recruits and thus keeps fighting.
Hence why governments and media outlets are moving to the more derogatory ‘Daesh,’ which doesn’t imply that the group is either a real government or an authentic representation of Islamic thought. In fact, the term ‘Daesh’ is an acronym that doesn’t really mean anything, which is precisely why it infuriates the people it describes.
Khaled al-Haj Salih, the Syrian activist who coined the term in 2013, says ‘Daesh’ is based off the acronym ‘D.A.E.SH.’ which stands for ‘al-Dowla Al-islaamiyya fii-il-I‘raaq wa-ash-SHam (meaning ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and the Leveant’). Salih says that the use of acronyms in Arabic are repulsive to most Arabic speakers. Thus, the simple use of an acronym to describe ‘Daesh’ is offensive to the terrorists.
Furthermore, the acronym is the perfect satirical simplification of the pompous, long and delusional name created by the group. Judged in this light, it is easier to see how the group hates the acronym ‘Daesh.’
A Final Word on the ‘un-Islamic State’
The use of ‘Islamic State’ brings up the issue of insulting and stigmatizing non-extremist Muslims (the other 99%). Using ‘Daesh’ sends the message to all audiences that they should not equate ISIS with Islam.
Given the large Muslim minorities across the West, and their struggles with assimilation and intolerance, this is an important message. A group of British imams wrote a letter to Cameron last year asking him to call it the “un-Islamic state.”
Cameron, during a BBC interview, called the name Islamic State “a perversion of the religion of Islam and many Muslims listening to this programme will recoil every time they hear the words Islamic State.”
By using ‘Daesh,’ a fabricated nonsense name for them, we can hope to undermine the terrorist group’s claim to legitimacy, and reject their rule as nonsense. Join us, and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
For a more indepth read check out Decoding Daesh: Why Is the New Name for ISIS so Hard to Understand?