Following the attacks on Paris on November 13, the self-proclaimed Islamic State has dominated the news. However, the way media in France are covering the news severely differs from the way media back in America has in one specific and essential way. Ever since President Hollande’s speech on the day of the attacks, the French have been using the word “Daesh” instead of ISIS to talk about the terrorists.
It’s important to remember that the term ISIS means the Islamic State of Iraq and greater Syria. President Obama and his cabinet have preferred to use the term ISIL, which stands for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (the Levant being a historical term to describe much of the Middle East). All these terms are problematic as they give legitimacy to Daesh’s claims of being an Islamic organization despite its actions being rejected by the majority of Muslims and by Muslim leaders around the world. Furthermore, translating their ambitions of dominating Iraq, Syria, and the Levant region (which can comprise Palestine, Israel and even Cyprus depending on the ambiguous usage of the term) legitimizes their claim to power.
This is where “Daesh” comes in. The French media and government have consistently used the word after the attacks. While the word is actually another acronym (like ISIS or ISIL) it is the Arabic acronym of the terrorist organization’s full name: al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. It literally translates to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which may explain why the Obama administration has insisted in using ISIL over ISIS.
The beauty of using the term Daesh resides in two very important points: translation and meaning. By using the Arabic term instead of translating it, we remove any recognition to their claims. It is important to let Daesh know that while we care deeply about those they have affected, the West does not recognize them as neither a State or as an Islamic organization. Because it is important to highlight they are neither. Their aims are terror and division, and that is clear for the civilians forced to live under their barbaric rule. Much like calling Al Qaeda for its Arabic name and not “The Foundation” (its literal translation), by calling Daesh by its Arabic name we are denying them their lofty and unfounded ambitions.
The meaning of “Daesh” also allows a more innocent and perhaps even more powerful reason as to why we should all use it. According to Zeba Kahn’s definition for The Boston Globe, depending on its conjugation in Arabic, “Daesh” can mean “anything from ‘to trample down and crush’ to ‘a bigot who imposes his view on others.’” If we have the opportunity to call these terrorists for exactly what they are, why not do it? Daesh has realized the problem their self-proclaimed title has brought them and are allegedly cutting off the tongues of the people who use it under their reign. But in the West, where the threat is not as immediate, perhaps we should try to call Daesh out on its contradictions.