ISIS has been the name many of us have come to use over the summer as this terrorist group has come to prominence. The group is also referred to as IS or ISIL, by many government leaders.
But why discuss it at all? Should it matter what an extremist group calls itself? Shouldn’t people be focusing on what means they are using to achieve their ends?
According to Jonah Blank, a former staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “the militant organization is waging a propaganda war—and what name it goes by is part of that war.”
This group seeks to reestablish a caliphate, a mecca for Sunni Muslims all over the world run by a supreme religious and political leader. The calphi are older societies, the last of which died out with the Ottoman Empire. They are seen as the Golden Age of Islam. Muslims were at the cutting edge of art and technology. They also controlled vast amounts of political and economic power at this time.
The current attempt of reestablishment has taken place in western Iraq, eastern Syria, parts of Jordan and Turkey. This location has caused the name ISIS to become the front runner. It stands for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but the “Syria” they refer to is Greater Syria. Greater Syria is referred to by many as al-Sham in Arabic.
Al-Sham “is the classical Arabic term for Damascus and its hinterlands, and over time, it came to denote the area between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates, south of the Taurus Mountains and north of Arabian desert.”
The Obama Administration has translated the al-Sham differently to mean “the Levant” hence the president’s use of ISIL. It doesn’t have the lengthy explanation of greater Syria, but, more importantly, it also weakens the credibility of the terrorist group in a time when they are trying to recruit supporters.
As The New York Times explains again, the term Levant is “a once-common term that now has something of an antique whiff about it, like ‘the Orient.’ Many Arab nationalists and Islamist radicals disdain it.”
It seems that the President’s administration has come to agree with Jonah Blank. He looks to discredit them openly, causing confusion in the Middle East. This confusion seems to be taking effect. Many Muslims have already turned their back on the idea of a caliphate, as many have well an established mufti, who is the highest legal authority, giving rulings on practice for the state.
Its name is become confusing, and ISIL cannot seem to decide what to call itself. Islamic scholar Juan Cole says ISISL has no real support beyond their own followers and has no real prospect of gaining the respect of the greater Sunni Muslim community. It seems that its fall might come from internal factors that the U.S. can observe and comment on from afar.
– Frederick Wood II