The terrorist group now commonly known as “ISIS” should instead be called “Daesh”, according to the Boston Globe, and perhaps France. Zeba Khan explains:
The militants who are killing civilians, raping and forcing captured women into sexual slavery, and beheading foreigners in Iraq and Syria are known by several names: the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS; the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL; and, more recently, the Islamic State, or IS. French officials recently declared that that country would stop using any of those names and instead refer to the group as “Daesh.”The Obama administration should switch to this nomenclature, too, because how we talk about this group is central to defeating them. […]The term “Daesh” is strategically a better choice because it is still accurate in that it spells out the acronym of the group’s full Arabic name, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. Yet, at the same time, “Daesh” can also be understood as a play on words — and an insult. Depending on how it is conjugated in Arabic, it can mean anything from “to trample down and crush” to “a bigot who imposes his view on others.” Already, the group has reportedly threatened to cut out the tongues of anyone who uses the term.
The article veers between the wrong and the wrongheaded. Even after 13 years of Western engagement in the Middle East, opinion writers for a major American newspaper still have no interest in the Arabic language—even when writing about the Arabic language.“Daesh” is an acronym, and its roots (dal, ayn, shin) have no meaning in Arabic whatsoever. The expression for “to trample down and crush” is “da’s”. There is also the word “dahis”, meaning a felon.These words sound similar but are quite different, and they have nothing whatsoever to do with conjugation for “Daesh.” Yet the Globe interprets the word “Daeshi” as “a bigot who imposes his view on others.”But aside from the linguistic points (on which the author is clearly misinformed), what about the author’s argument that using this new name could help defeat ISIS? She concedes that “changing what the United States calls this band of militants is not going to make them go away.” But she insists that the United States must defeat ISIS intellectually and in the twitter-sphere in order to secure victory. In the abstract of trying to slow the torrent of Western recruits to ISIS, perhaps there is value in this approach. But if we’re serious about degrading and destroying ISIS, we’ll need more than puns and wordplay.