John Kerry Keeps Calling ISIS "Daesh" In A Well-Intentioned But Misguided Move
IS. ISIL. ISIS. It took politicians, the media, and the general public a while to settle on how to refer to the extremist group that has been commanding headlines since this summer. Although there was never any consensus on the name — President Obama, for example, says ISIL, while many news outlets call it ISIS — Secretary of State John Kerry has been using a different name for ISIS — Daesh.
Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, and it appears that at least some Middle Eastern news organizations are using it as house style. France's foreign ministry has also adopted the name in an attempt to separate the organization from Islam in general. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a press release:
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’.
Kerry's rationale for using Daesh is similar. At a Saban Forum in early December, he tried to distance the group from the religion.
Daesh claims to be fighting for Islam but its actions are an insult to Islam.
But while Kerry's intentions are good, the end result could ultimately be harmful.
The Washington Post noted that one problem with using Daesh is that it gives the name a certain "Voldemort Effect," or giving the name power through people's inability to use it. It gives the group a certain mystique and allure that it should not be afforded.
But the bigger problem, one that Kerry is trying to avoid, won't be rectified by using Daesh in place of ISIS. Kerry wants to avoid connecting ISIS to Islam as a whole, and that's a valid effort. He likely (and rightfully) fears that, from a U.S. standpoint, the violence at the hands of this group will fuel Islamophobia. But not using the name won't eradicate that problem. Not practicing prejudice must fall on individuals rather than semantics.
Sure, the people fighting for ISIS believe that they are fulfilling a religious duty to create a caliphate. But you'd hope that people could understand that one remote arm of a religion does not represent the doctrine as a whole. Does the Westboro Baptist Church summarize the teachings of Christianity? What about the Children of God? Are all Koreans Moonies? We accept that there is extremism in all religions, so why is this different? Why can't we say that they identify as Islamic, without worrying about indicating that the religion as a whole isn't inherently evil?
It is the same type of reaction that happened in Sydney this month after a Muslim extremist took hostages for 16 hours in a Lindt café. But the problem isn't whether we call it ISIS or Daesh. The problem is that people still believe that Islam can be an evil religion. That's what we need to focus on, not the acronym.
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