Rosetta stone by Eisabeth.Skene [cropped]
Rosetta stone by Eisabeth.Skene [cropped]

ISIS, ISIL or IS?

The first I knew of the attacks in Paris last night was a special Facebook notification from a friend in France. It was nice to know she was safe, but what from?

I soon found out after looking at the BBC news website. Grim indeed.

There were claims that it was by ISIS. Or IS. I wasn’t sure of the difference. I turned again to the Internet to help, where I discovered that it’s also called ISIL by Barack Obama and David Cameron, and that Francois Hollande has been calling it Daesh. This doesn’t really help. So what do they all mean?

According to the Guardian, it’s all down to the translation of the Arabic into English and to which region is being referred to. Brookings suggests that it’s also about whether you want to insult the group or not. Apparently, Francois Hollande does.

As far as I can tell, this is what’s going on.

  1. 1999: the group is founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, from Jordan, with the name Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad.
  2. 2004: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi signs up with Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida cronies; the group becomes known as Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn.
  3. 2006: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi changes the group to Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). (The Guardian calls it the Islamic State in Iraq; Wikipedia calls it the Islamic State of Iraq.)
  4. 2013: ISI becomes al Dawla al-Islamyia fil Iraq wa’al Sham, which translates as the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham. Now it starts to get complicated: this is where the different abbreviations come in:
    • Al-Sham is the historic Arabic name for Syria, Lebanon, and (according to some authorities) Jordan and Palestine. (Guardian)
    • This area is known in English (thanks to the antiquated French phrase for the lands of the rising sun) as the Levant. (Guardian)
    • So, ISIL is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which saves on the contested abbreviation ISISL(JP); and
    • Isis is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which excludes Lebanon (and Jordan and Palestine).
    • If you abbreviate the Arabic version (al Dawla al-Islamyia fil Iraq wa’al Sham), instead of the English version, you get Da’ish. The Economist says that Da’ish rolls pleasurably off Arab tongues as a close cousin of words meaning to stomp, crush, smash into, or scrub, making comparisons between Nazi and nasty. The French have picked up on this, and use the form Daesh.
  5. 2014: the group changes again into the State of the Islamic Caliphate (SIC), according to the Economist. As far as I can tell, this state is for all Muslims, although I don’t know how they reconcile that into a geographical area or how they intend making all Muslims follow their rules, especially when those rules conflict with the laws of the country in which they’re living. Maybe it’s like Christendom. Maybe the suicide bombers, and the rest, are reversing the ill-conceived Crusades.

If only we could all take a leaf out of John Lennon’s book:

Imagine there’s no countries,
It isn’t hard to do.
Nothing to kill or die for,
And no religion too.
Imagine all the people,
Living life in peace.

Imagine by John Lennon

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