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U.S. general, John Kerry begin to refer to ISIL as DAESH after regional allies’ request

DAESHU.S. general, John Kerry begin to refer to ISIL as DAESH after regional allies’ request

Published 22 December 2014

Lieutenant General James Terry, the general who leads U.S. operations against Islamic State in Iraq, said U.S. partners in the war against the jihadist group had asked that American officials use the name DAESH, the acronym for the group’s name in Arabic (al-Dawla al-Islamyia fil Iraq wa’al Sham), rather than the group’s other monikers – ISIS, ISIL, and Islamic State — because they worried these other names would legitimize the group’s ambitions. Secretary of state John Kerry has already modified his terminology in recent weeks, using DAESH sixteen times and ISIL only twice during remarks to NATO officials in Belgium.

Lieutenant General James Terry, the general who leads U.S. operations against Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq, appears to have informally rebranded the jihadists group with the name “DAESH.” It is not truly a rebranding, since DAESH is the acronym for the group’s name in Arabic (al-Dawla al-Islamyia fil Iraq wa’al Sham), and the group is called DAESH throughout the Middle East (including Israel) and North Africa.

The Guardian reports that U.S. allies in the war against ISIS had asked Terry not use the group’s other monikers because they worried this would legitimize the group’s ambitions.

In a press conference last Thursday General Terry used DAESH almost exclusively to refer to the group, although the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community primarily use “ISIL”— which stands “the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” – and will continue to do so.

The acronym “ISIS” is erroneous, the result of a misunderstanding. When the group’s exploits began to capture the headlines in early spring, a few journalists thought the last “S” in the group’s name stood for “Syria,” as in “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”

That last “S,” however, stands for “Sham”: “Sham” in traditional Arabic and Islamic literature is usually defined as an area to the East of the Mediterranean Sea, West of the Euphrates River, North of the Arabian Desert, and South of the Taurus Mountains. The classical Arabic name for Syria is Sham – but the reference is not to the current political unit called Syria, but to “Greater Syria” – or rather, to the idea of a greater Syria, because such greater Syria never existed — which includes the current-day Syria and Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, and Israel, an area scholars refer to as the Levant.

This is why, in late Spring, the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community began to refer to the groups as “ISIL” – and this is why U.S. officials refer to the group as ISIL.

Terry said Arab partners in the region had asked him not to use the terms Islamic State, ISIL, or ISIS.

The Guardian notes that Secretary of state John Kerry has also modified his terminology in recent weeks, using DAESH sixteen times and ISIL only twice during remarks to NATO officials in Belgium. Retired general John Allen, the U.S. envoy who coordinates the coalition against ISIS, also prefers DAESH. French president Francois Hollande has used DAESH interchangeably with the group’s other names.

People in the Middle East, North Africa, and many Muslims around the world use DAESH, and many do so to indicate that they oppose the group and its interpretation of Islam. This is especially the case, according to the AP, since the group, when it changed its name in September to “the Islamic State,” “threatened to cut the tongue of anyone who publicly used the acronym DAESH … saying it shows defiance and disrespect.”

Ian Black, the Guardian’s middle east editor, discussed the history of the word DAESH in a September article, noting that the group’s violent practices have given rise to a new word: “in the plural form — ‘daw’aish’ — it means bigots who impose their views on others.”

The group has changed its name several times. It was founded in 1999 as Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, became al-Qaeda in Iraq, then the Islamic State in Iraq under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, then the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (English acronym: ISIL; Arabic acronym: DAESH), and finally, in September, the Islamic State.

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