They are neither a 'state' nor 'Islamic': Why we shouldn't call them Isis, Isil or IS

For too long we have allowed a terrorist group to define themselves

The shocking attack last week at a peaceful Tunisian tourist resort has shown us once again that terror continues to be a threat. There is no question that the group behind this attack, which refers to itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) or as “Islamic State” is an evil terror organisation. But I believe that for too long we have allowed them to define themselves as something which they are not, and now we need to change how we label them. This is why I have started a campaign to get the government, the BBC, and other organisations to alter the title that they use.

In the wake of the horrific Tunisian attacks, our resolve to fight terrorism at home and abroad means we should not give credence to the propaganda which is being used to suck more vulnerable, disillusioned and some clearly dangerous individuals to their cause.

You may wonder - what’s so important about a name? But names have a significance because their impact, as Professor James Bruning has said, “comes from how people expect to see you.” By referring to them as the 'Islamic State' they gain legitimacy where none should exist.

The atrocities they have committed in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere clearly demonstrate that they have no right to be called a state. We all know what a state looks like – it is internationally and legally recognised as one, has a defined sovereign territory and ordered institutions. This group has none of these things, and ignores international law and norms. 

Nor are they Islamic. This criminal gang is distorting a peaceful religion for its own violent ends, which the vast majority of Muslims, here in the UK and around the world, find despicable and insulting. I have spent time travelling the country, speaking with communities and holding meetings in mosques, and I have found that people from far and wide are deeply upset that their faith is being linked with these terrorists and their monstrous acts. 

My campaign to get the Government and the BBC to call these criminals by their true identity  - 'Daesh' - has now secured the backing of over 125 MPs from across the political spectrum, and earlier, on the BBC Today Programme, the Prime Minister joined us. As he said: “It’s not an Islamic State; what it is, is an appalling, barbarous regime.”  I applaud this statement by the Prime Minister, and call for the next step: to stop calling them Isis or Isil all together.  

So what is an alternative name for them? There is one title that has gained traction across the Middle East, which is an Arabic acronym for the group’s name. The word they use is “Daesh” which also holds negative connotations. It is similar to the word “Daes” meaning “one who crushes something underfoot” and “Dahes” meaning “one who sows discord”.

In September last year, France officially adopted this title. The French Foreign Minister urged media outlets to refer to the group as Daesh because, as he said, the Islamic State “blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims and Islamists.”

We need to change the way we speak about this organisation and decouple it from religion, which for too long has been hijacked to justify terrorist acts. Joining our international partners and uniting around one name – Daesh, would certainly help.

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