While debating whether to bomb Syria in Parliament yesterday (Dec. 2), British prime minister David Cameron announced the government would start calling the militant group ”Daesh” instead of ISIL (also known as the Islamic State or ISIS). Cameron is following in the footsteps of French government ministers, who have been referring to the terrorist group as Daesh for a while now.
Cameron has called on others to refer to the terrorist group as Daesh because “this evil death cult is neither a true representation of Islam nor is it a state,” echoing similar sentiments by French foreign minister Laurent Fabius who described them as a “a terrorist group and not a state.” Fabius added that he would personally be calling them the “Daesh cutthroats.”
Daesh is an Arabic acronym of “al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil Iraq wa al-Sham,” which translates to “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,” or ISIL. The last word—al-Sham—is used in Arabic to denote Damascus, Greater Syria, the Levant, or Syria.
ISIL doesn’t like to be called Daesh. Why? Alice Guthrie, an Arabic translator and researcher, explains that while the English language is saturated with acronyms, the use of acronyms is rarer in Arabic. She writes in a blog post:
And so if the word is basically ‘ISIS’, but in Arabic, why are the people it describes in such a fury about it? Because they hear it, quite rightly, as a challenge to their legitimacy: a dismissal of their aspirations to define Islamic practice, to be ‘a state for all Muslims’ and—crucially—as a refusal to acknowledge and address them as such. They want to be addressed as exactly what they claim to be, by people so in awe of them that they use the pompous, long, and delusional name created by the group, not some funny-sounding made-up word.
Residents in Mosul, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Associated Press that the militant group threatened to cut out the tongue of anyone who used the acronym and not the full name. Human rights activist Iyad El-Baghdadi says the name was coined by Syrian activists to “delegitimize” the militant group.
It’s also worth noting that the acronym Daesh is one letter off from the word “daes,” which means something or someone that crushes or tramples.