When I first read about this, the story was in the non-mainstream press and was confusing. What was not clear was the agenda. Most referred to the organisation as the Islamic State of Iraq & Syria but then used both ISIS and ISIL as the acronym for this. Why ISIL? Shortly afterwards, Islamic State of Iraq & the Levant appeared which covered a much wider area than originally mentioned. Could this simply be the early stages of the news breaking as disparate sources slowly pieced the picture together from differing fragments of the whole picture?
When the mainstream press took over, it reverted to ISIS and was all about Syria & Iraq. ISIS was a nicer acronym and the conspiracists quickly picked up the thread of its possible association with the deity of the same name once prevalent in the region, though this has fallen by the wayside.
The mainstream news changed again and started referring to ISIL and the broader Levant region in line with the earlier stories. The campaign gained a wider scope once more. As the fanatics spread, the press reported the campaign of terror — ‘convert or die’ — and the rapid expansion of the fundamentalists. ISIS and ISIL were interchangeable but then became simply IS — the Islamic State — as if to clear up the confusion because nobody could seemingly agree on what to actually call the group, though all versions were claimed to come from the source — within the group itself. Interestingly, Wikipedia uses ISIL for all versions of ISIL, ISIS, Daesh, and Islamic State.
Lebanon and Israel got twitchy as they were once part of the old Caliphate and the Levant area. Occasional mentions were given to the Caliph’s agenda of creating an Islamic State as far-reaching as Spain including all the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea in between. I doubt a group such as IS would infringe on Israel as this may well seal their doom, though attacks on Lebanon have taken place. A rapid influx of funds for arms has occurred and Lebanon may well hold out against the onslaught. Furthermore, it wouldn’t take much for the rival groups in Lebanon and Israel (Hamas and Hezbollah) to embroil both countries in the fight, so this might be one powder keg IS steers clear of.
However, vid clips uploaded on YouTube and shared on Facebook show the apparent spread of fundamentalism to communities in other parts of the world, fundamentalism which clearly demonstrates clear racism towards the host country and its residents, and a fervent conviction by the extremists that “Islam will enter every household.”
Many countries have welcomed multi-faith communities and shown broad libertarianism toward them, yet some of those same immigrants cite racism whenever anybody suggests that they should follow the local rules of the host nation. Putin is famously quoted as saying in 2013: “Any minority, from anywhere, if it wants to live in Russia, to work and eat in Russia, should speak Russian, and should respect the Russian laws.” Although the quote appears to have been borrowed from Australian Finance Minister Peter Costello in 2006, the message is clear. Even the nations from which the immigrants originated impose strict rules on visitors and expect those rules to be followed or suffer the penalties. So why can we not do the same in the West?
Sadly, news and social media coverage have spread fear to other parts of the world, a fear which may be justifiable given the atrocities happening at the heart of the IS territory, but one which fuels unjust hatred and triggers senseless conflict further afield. This is the ripple effect, the butterfly’s wings beating. Conflict materialises either through direct confrontation of fundamentalist cells with the authorities or through sporadic violence among communities which could then escalate further.
To put it in context, there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, but only a handful of extremists claiming to be acting ‘in the name of Islam.’ You only have to look on the Internet to see how many Muslims are denouncing the acts of the extremists. History has always shown us extremists from every culture — they are typically the change bringers — and how we respond to them determines the eventual outcome.
These are very difficult times, and we should keep in mind that it is easy to misunderstand the scale of the problem through the bias of the news we see, read or experience through social media and regular news channels. We need to remain strong in our communities — multi-faith or otherwise — and learn to live and work together if we are to build a better future. Journalism has a pivotal role to play in the evolution of IS, as do we when we post to social media and share with our friends. We can polarise or diffuse and need to be mindful of the bigger picture and the ripples we create. Maybe we could start by calling them something else that does not generalise and associate the broader majority of Islamic moderates?
The alternative echoes a dystopia I am not sure I want to be part of.
EDIT: The name change has gained support at government level as IS confers legitimacy to the organisation, and simply referring to them as Daesh may imply the same relevance as other terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, al-Quds, Haqqani, or the (satirical) Judean People’s Front (not to be confused with the PFJ); i.e. simply another group of fanatics operating outside and against the mainstream. However, Daesh is actually the Arabic acronym for the group which translates to ISIL, but it is used commonly in the Middle East as it sounds like disrespectful words such as “Fahish” (“committer of heinous crimes”), “Dahis” (the one who hits others with a vehicle), “Daeick” (crumbler, crusher), and “Dahish” (surpriser, shocker).
Originally published at https://www.hologram.me.uk on August 19, 2014.