It is time to call ISIS by the acronym of its actual name which just happens to omit reference to both state and caliphate….and while we are at it, have a long hard think about how subjectively the 'T' word is bandied about these days.
In our daily news there are two terms which need attention.
They are both linked and both ugly.
The first is the false acronym(s) used to describe the bunch of murdering, kidnapping, raping militant thugs who appear on our screens in their slickly edited propaganda execution movies.
For the last two years we in the ‘West’ in particular (but not solely)have been referring to them as they wish to be addressed - as ISIS, ISIL or IS.
These of course refer to Islamic STATE in Iraq and al-Sham (Arabic for the Levant) (ISIS), the Islamic STATE in the Levant (ISIL), or the just the Islamic STATE (IS).
However there is no Islamic State in any of these areas and all we are doing is bestowing credibility where none is due.
Many Arab scholars, politicians and media refer to them as Daesh - also an acronym for the group’s actual name ‘al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham’.
Within the Arabic the word Islam does appear, but reference to Daesh instead of all the others omits it, and that’s a way of respecting the massive majority of Muslims who have absolutely no connection to the members of Daesh - and are disproportionately their victims.
Daesh does not like to be called Daesh. That may be a small linguistic weapon but it is arguably better than none.
Daesh, depending on how it is conjugated in Arabic can refer to bigots and those who impose their views.
It is not a compliment.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius led a charge for such a change late last year. He is catching on slowly, and I for one plan to join him.
No more endowment with non existent titles.
No more legitimating a non-existent state, let alone a non-existent ‘Caliphate’ over vast swathes of the Middle East.
Which leads me to the next term: terrorism/terrorist.
Over the course of the past week three ‘incidents’ in different countries raised a very important question - what distinguishes a criminal act from a terrorist act? When is a criminal a terrorist?
Three young Muslims were murdered in North Carolina by a self described ‘gun-toting atheist’ who wished Christians, Muslims and Jews would exterminate each other.
In his apartment police found and arsenal of handguns, shotguns, rifles including a military style rifle and a large cache of ammunition.
The gunman went into the home of newlyweds Deah Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha and shot them and Yusor’s younger sister Razan, ostensibly over a parking dispute.
Now, were the roles reversed what do you imagine the headlines would be?
If a Muslim of Arab or South Asian descent gunned down three young white people in North Carolina, it is a fair bet the word ‘terrorist’ would be bandied about.
And guess what? One day later when a known violent 22-year old Dane by the name of Omar el-Hussein went on a shooting spree in Copenhagen and killed two people it was immediately labelled a terrorist act.
That is despite Denmark’s Prime Minister making it clear el-Hussein had no known links to any terror cell.
And then in Halifax, Canada, on Valentine’s Day the police foiled a planned murder spree by a young Canadian and a young American - the third of their neo-Nazi, Klan, Columbine massacre devotees killed himself before the police got him.
No. Apparently the three white “murderous misfits” as Canada’s federal Justice Minister called them were, in the words of the local police, ”a group of individuals that had some beliefs and were willing to carry out violent acts against citizens”.
Hmmmm....”individuals”, “beliefs”, violence against innocents.
Hardly just a day at the Halifax mall.
Again a fair bet that if the alleged perpetrators were Muslim the headline would have screamed “Terrorist Mass-Murder Plot Averted”.
Defining terrorism has been elusive since the French Revolution, but took on a new immediacy after 2001. Yet separating the subjectives from the objectives, the cells from the lone wolves, the real from the imagined and exploring the psychology, the motives and the contexts remains evasive.
What we see are governments lining up to introduce anti-terrorism legislation because that’s the way to give intelligence agencies and the police more powers.
The British, Americans and others have fairly closely linked definitions which describe terrorism as using or threatening to use violent actions for the purposes of influencing and intimidating governments and the public, for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.
When this definition is used by these states against others, few question it.
When those very same states act in a manner which fits their own definition of terrorism, it is referred to as ‘counter-terrorism’ even when it is blindingly obvious there was nothing to ‘counter’ in the first place. Iraq 2003.
Once labelled, ‘terrorists’, by virtue of those who label them, are stripped of any legal rights - they can be arrested, tortured, held without charge and assassinated with zero repercussions for the (state) perpetrator. Their ‘crimes’ can include peaceful political agitation. Egypt 2014.
Academics tell us that the meaning of terrorism fluctuates with history, but there’s a general feeling that legal definitions add little to the debate other than giving government specific crimes that action can be taken against.
Then of course legal definitions can be fraught with internal contradictions - the old one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter issue.
It also depends on whether you have friends in high places - how is Saudi Arabia’s mass beheadings, even of a woman in the street, different to the beheadings of Daesh? Why is every Palestinian who commits a crime labelled by the Israeli settler Government a terrorist, yet not one illegal settler who kills or maims a Palestinian, or destroys their olive groves ever called a terrorist let alone face imprisonment?
In reality can a single definition actually embody all the potentials of terror?
In reality what can be casually labelled as terrorism is often indistinguishable from war, revolutions and crime.
The UN’s 2004 definition requires the act to intend death or serious bodily injury to a civilian or someone not involved in hostilities in order to intimidate or compel a government or international organization to do or abstain from doing a particular act.
It is but one of a myriad of definitions I have found....way too many to list here but worth the search.
Terrorism is an emotionally charged, pejorative term, depending on where the sympathies of the accuser lie - with the perpetrator or the victim.
It’s application therefore requires considerably more thought than is currently given before it is applied to those who are often ‘merely’ criminals.