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ISIS: Why should we care about the acronym?

We are all aware that ISIS wants to use us, as media platforms around the world, to build a picture that serves its purposes

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Many governments have begun urging the media to not use the “ISIS” acronym. The terrorist organization started using this acronym two years ago, when its leader declared himself a caliphate and changed the name of his group from ISI (Islamic State of Iraq) to ISIS in order to expand from Iraq to include Syria.

When the group’s formation was announced in April 2013 under the appellation of the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”, the media and specifically Al Arabiya News Channel decided to call it as “Daesh” (the Arabic abbreviation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). We are all aware that ISIS wants to use us, as media platforms around the world, to build a picture that serves its purposes. A lot of people objected to the appellation and the coverage because it is insulting the true defenders of Islam against the Western occupiers or the oppressed Sunni community. It offended the defenders of the people of al-Anbar or the rebels against al-Assad regime in Syria. In fact, ISIS activities confused people initially, but most of them discovered later on that ISIS is nothing but the same al-Qaeda evil group, despite adopting rightful issues.

ISIS (Daesh in Arabic) is not a cynical label as said and written in the Western media. It is just the acronym of the appellation. The group is certainly against this acronym because it intentionally wants to be known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, to rally around it Muslims from all over the world. According to the group, it is the identity, land and project that matters, and ISIS is the sole representative of Islam! The group has even sanctioned a kid in Anbar because he dared to call it ISIS, as it considered it to be an insult. It broadcasted the video to be a lesson to others.

‘Two Babylons’

It is an old battle with extremists. Fourteen centuries ago, Muslims fought a group that is very similar to ISIS: it expiated Muslims and called for the revolt against the State. It called itself as “Jamaat al-Mumineen”, but Muslims labeled it as Khawarij or “Kharijites”. History repeats itself. We are facing today an ideological problem that cannot be combated with weapons, but rather challenged with ideas, starting with its name and theme. Arab and foreign media were thus led behind involving the appellation of the Islamic State in heinous crimes. This is not wrong but it is also not necessary, especially in the presence of correct and professional appellations that would avoid harming the Muslims twice: the first time, in Islamic countries where the group uses its appellation to incite young Muslims to join its ranks, and the second time in other communities, by provoking non-Muslims against Muslims in communities where they coexist together, such as Europe, Russia, China and India. This will serve the vision of bin Laden to divide the world, where he called it as the “two Babylons.”

We are all aware that ISIS wants to use us, as media platforms around the world, to build a picture that serves its purposes

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The French government was the first to warn against the use of “the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” appellation, saying that it is as dangerous as the terrorist act. Later, the Prime Minister of Australia asked the media not to use this appellation because it confuses Muslims and terrorists.

It is not true that everyone is aware that ISIS is a terrorist group similar to fascist organizations spread around in the world. Ordinary Muslim citizens and young people may misguidedly believe that an Islamic organization is defending them just because a group labeled itself as the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”, and “God is great” is written on its flag. The name of the group embraces history and religion, and it facilitates the task of the defenders who are mainly Muslim extremists. They are the most dangerous fighters in the group. It also harms Islam as it ties it to activities that non-Muslims around the world might link to the religion of Islam and its followers. It is easier to link any crime to a nationality, race, religion or ideology if the media highlighted it to be so, as is the case with ISIS.

ISIS is a very intelligent group. It deploys a great effort to promote the same image; that it represents Islam and Muslims in a conflict with the whole world. It knows the mentality of Muslims around the world. Declaring the group as a state or caliphate tackles deep historical values that might attract some Muslims and urge them to fight to protect these values. This is why the group made sure that its full name be published as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It is aware that popular media will be the best way to convey its identity, appellation and messages in Syria and Iraq to millions of Muslims around the world. This is what distinguishes ISIS from al-Qaeda: the latter did not care much about the appellation’s psychology. The name of al-Qaeda was even chosen by the international media as a shortening for “Jihad base”. It did not even promote its flag. It was best known for its two signifiers: “Qaeda” and “Osama bin Laden”. Upon Bin Laden’s death, the group was faltering and al-Zawahiri failed to replace the group’s late leader Osama Bin Laden.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 25, 2015.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.