Isis, Islamic State, Isil, or Daesh? What the different names mean and why it matters
France has changed the name it uses to avoid legitimising terrorists
As the international fight continues against Islamic extremists waging a bloody campaign to establish a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, the debate about what to call the group continues.
If it were up to the terrorists themselves, the world would be calling them the “Islamic State” in recognition of the caliphate they have declared.
The rebrand launched in June has spread, despite pleas from leading Muslims and other groups not to legitimise their status.
The British and US Governments are among those using the acronym Isil, while the name Isis is more commonly seen.
Adding to the confusion last week, the French announced they would use the Arabic-derived term “Daesh” to replace their previous name, EIIL ( L'Etat islamique en Irak et en Syrie).
The four competing names are only a handful of those used by Isis, which emerged in 1999 when it was established by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant who allegedly ran a terror training camp and orchestrated bombings and beheadings in Iraq.
His group was initially known as Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, before changing to the simpler al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) after pledging allegiance to Osama bin Laden’s network in October 2004.
Since then, the group has operated under numerous guises until its current leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared it the Islamic State in Iraq (Isi) in 2006, adding the “and al-Sham” to make “Isis” in 2013.
So what do the different names mean?
Islamic State (IS)
The militants announced in June that they were dropping the last two letters of their acronym and instead should be referred to as the Islamic State in recognition of their self-declared caliphate.
“It is neither Islamic, nor is it a State. The group has no standing with faithful Muslims, nor among the international community of nations," a letter to David Cameron signed by the Islamic Society of Britain and the Association of Muslim Lawyers, said.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis)
The original name for the group in Arabic was Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. The first three words translate to the Islamic State of Iraq while “al-Sham” refers to Syria and the wider surrounding area.
The group’s stated goal is to restore an Islamic state, or caliphate, in the entire region. The acronym poses an issue for the many companies and brands around the world already using it or named after the ancient Egyptian goddess of the same name.
An American woman called Isis Martinez also unsuccessfully petitioned the US media asking them to stop using her first name.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil)
The undefined region around Syria is historically referred to as the Levant (an archaic French phrase for the “lands of the rising sun”), including modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan.
The Obama administration has said that it uses the acronym Isil as it believes the word “Levant” to be a more accurate translation from the Arabic name.
The French government changed its official name for the terror group, saying others “blur the lines between Islam, Muslims and Islamists”.
The Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius asked journalists and media organisations to follow their example, adding: “This is a terrorist group and not a state.
“I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims and Islamists. The Arabs call it ‘Daesh’ and I will be calling them the ‘Daesh cutthroats’.”
Daesh, sometime spelled DAIISH or Da'esh, is short for Dawlat al-Islamiyah f'al-Iraq wa al-Sham.
Many Arabic-speaking media organisations refer to the group as such and there is an argument it is appropriately pejorative, deriving from a mixture of rough translations from the individual Arabic words, notably the Arabic verb دعس, within the name, which means to tread underfoot or crush.