What’s In A Word?


I have noticed a very interesting departure by the White House from its cohorts in the national media. The current proponent of most of the violence in the Middle East is alternately referred to by the world media as “ISIS” (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) or “ISIL” (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant). The U.S. State Department uses the term “ISIL.”

Not only that, but even allies refer to the present Middle East conflict differently:

“British Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain must ‘drive back, dismantle and ultimately destroy ISIS and what it stands for.’ Similarly, President Obama has said the U.S. is preparing to ‘deal with a threat from ISIL.’”

So why the dichotomy? Does one letter really matter that much? Or is it the word the letter represents that could be causing the difference? Perhaps a look at what the letters in question stands for might be helpful.

“ISIS,” as you know, presently stands for “Islamic State Iraq and Syria” but the Obama administration is using “ISIL” to avoid using the “S.” According to some reports, in the original name, the first three letters translate to the “Islamic State of Iraq” while the “S” – “al-Sham” – refers to an undefined region around Syria. This could potentially create a problem for the U.S., as according to one news source, “Syria said … that it is ‘ready’ to work with the United States and other world powers in fighting ‘terrorism.’”

Thus, talk about “attacking Syria” is tricky for the U.S. government, especially after Obama refused to send troops into the country to intervene in the civil war against President Bashar al-Assad.

So as opposed to using “ISIS” (In Arabic, the group is known as Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham, or the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham), which could possibly offend Syria, the Obama administration refers to the group as “ISIL,” which stands for “Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.”

Obama chooses to utilize or assign the name “Levant” to a terrorist organization that has declared a “caliphate” in the Middle East – a form of Islamic government led by a caliph (the chief Muslim civil and religious ruler, regarded as the successor of Muhammad).

However, here is the conflicting part for me. The term “al-Sham” – termed by our State Department as “Levant” – refers to a region stretching from southern Turkey through Syria to Egypt, including Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan. The group’s stated goal is to impose an Islamic state, or caliphate, over that entire area.

So, correct me if I am in error: It’s wrong to possibly offend an “ally” such as Syria, but it’s OK to utilize a “more accurate” phrase, “Levant,” that implies the destruction or domination of our real ally, Israel?

Fortunately, ISIS has provided the Obama administration with a solution: “The militant group announced in June that it was dropping the last two letters of its acronym and should now be referred to, not as ISIS, or ISIL, but as “IS” (Islamic State).

However, there is another problem. “In reaction to this, leading Muslims have called for the name to be altered to discourage people from joining it. It is neither Islamic nor is it a State.” A letter to David Cameron signed by the Islamic Society of Britain and the Association of Muslim Lawyers, said, “The group has no standing with faithful Muslims, nor among the international community of nations.” Apparently, even some Muslims don’t want it.

Hmmm, so, not ISIS, ISIL or even IS? How about THUG?

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