Americans are acquainted with two acronyms used by world leaders and journalists to refer to a terrorist organization that wishes to impose sharia law on the world: ISIS and ISIL.
This weekend, owing to the horrendous events in Paris, English-speakers previously unacquainted with it have been introduced to another acronym. In French, it’s spelled DAESCH; in English, it’s spelled DAESH. The French pronounce it as two syllables:/da-eesh/, but in English it can be pronounced as one syllable: /dash/.
ISIS and ISIL derive from Arabic words translated into English:
ISIS: The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria
ISIL: The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant
DAESH is the Arabic acronym for Al Dawla al-Islamyia fil Iraq wa’al Sham.
All three acronyms refer to the self-styled “Islamic State,” but DAESH has the advantage of not conveying the word Islamic to the minds of English speakers.
It is a long-establish journalistic practice to refer to people and organizations by the names and titles they prefer to use for themselves. Owing to the nature of the terrorist organization that calls itself “the Islamic State,” however, a different journalistic practice is called for: that of avoiding terminology that can encourage discrimination toward a subset of people.
For example, The Associated Press Stylebook offers recommendations for avoiding terms that might present a group of people negatively or condescendingly. For example:
• Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant.
• Except in direct quotations, do not use the terms illegal alien, an illegal, illegals or undocumented.
• gay Preferred over homosexual except in clinical context or references to sexual activity.
• fundamentalist In recent years, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations….do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.
• lady Do not use as a synonym for woman.
• girl Applicable until 18th birthday is reached. Use woman or young woman afterward.
Referring to the creatures who perpetrated this past week’s carnage as “the Islamic State” connects the religion of Islam with mindless barbaric savagery.
British Muslims have suggested calling the terrorist group “the UnIslamic State,” but we’d still be stuck with the misnomer state.
Regardless of what the outlaws call themselves, it seems that political leaders and journalists need to weigh the harm of using the term “Islamic State” or any other kind of “state” for a band of murderers intent upon disrupting genuine states. True “states”—like France, Egypt, and Lebanon—are politically organized groups of people occupying a definite territory.
Although it claims to possess territory, DAESH is not a state. The territorities it claims belong to states already in existence. Even prefacing state with “self-styled” adds a modicum of credibility to its wish to present itself as a Muslim nation.
My own suggestion is to call the terrorists “the Murderous Horde,” but I’m willing to settle for DAESH.
You can read my objections to the acronym ISIS here.