United Nations: ISIS is regrouping

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/08/15/united-nations-isis-is-regrou.html


Daesh. That’s the name widely used by Arabic speaking critics of these fanatics because the fanatics hate it due to the double entendre in Arabic and because it denies the fanatics what is essentially a propaganda name. Can Westerns covering Daesh please get with the program?

[I’m not trying to single you out, Seamus; it’s been a problem throughout Western media. But it’s such a simple thing to deny these fanatics their grab for the veneer of legitimacy.]


Hey look! Just in time for mid-terms.


Agreed. Speaking for myself, I remain mystified about why the English-speaking media doesn’t use “Daesh”, especially when the group had already threatened to cut out the tongues of anyone who used it. I was honestly expecting a lot of “Hey, Daesh, come and get it!” And the continued lack of what seems like a reflexive response from most of America remains astounding…



And obviously understanding things outside of English, and explaining them to each other via our (social)media hive mind is hugely important on many levels: in the broadest sense, it allows us to attempt to take our place as global citizens, and feeds our connection to other humans on planet Earth. Sadly, the story of the word ‘Daesh’ is neither the only nor even the worst example of anglophone media failing us in this regard. But there’s something specifically important in this particular story which is being overlooked as a result of all the lazy journalism around it: the use of this word is part of a multi-pronged, diverse range of efforts by Arabs and Muslims to reject the terrorists’ linguistic posturing, their pseudo-classical use of Arabic, their claims to Quranic authority and an absolute foundation in sacred scripture, as reflected in their pompous name. This ridiculous claim has of course been masterfully and witheringly deconstructed at the Islamic level, but at the secular level, satire is a crucial weapon in the fight against these maniacs: there is a fertile tradition of Syrian satire as not only defiance but coping strategy, and which has been quite under-reported. In satirical Arabic media (and conversation) various diminutives of the word have also gone viral – elegantly diminishing their subject, belittling them, patronising and relegating them to a zone beyond any formal naming in a single sweep


Whether the word Daesh is insulting to its subject because it sounds ridiculous, or because it actually sounds sinister, depends slightly on who you ask. Some Syrians I’ve talked to rate the satirical value of the word very highly; for others, such as al-Haj Salih himself, however, the main weight of the word is not around humour, but around two very serious points he and others make. First of these is that both the shape of the word and the combination of letters in it are redolent of words from al-jahaliyya, the pre-Islamic dark ages or ‘age of ignorance’ that – as well as being a time rich in poetry and narrative heritage – has huge connotations of hideous barbarity in the popular imagination, being the realm of jinns and monsters and evil spirits and marauding freaks. This has also been overlooked in anglophone coverage, or been confused with an idea of the word having a previous set meaning in and of itself: as we know, it doesn’t. But given the connotations of this type of word, it sounds (to many an arabophone ear) very clearly like it must denote some crazed, bloodthirsty avatar belching back out from the guts of history. As al-Haj Salih very gently and firmly expresses to me by phone when I interview him for this piece, ‘If an organisation wants to call itself ‘the light’, but in fact they are ‘the darkness’, would you comply and call them ‘the light’?’ The second, and equally important, point that al-Haj Salih stresses to me is another take on why a neologism is insulting: it’s an obviously fictitious name, for an obviously fictional concept. Once again, the movement’s claim to legitimacy as a state and to rule is being rejected as nonsense, reflected in a fabricated nonsense name for them.

So the insult picked up on by Daesh is not just that the name makes them sound little, silly, and powerless, but that it implies they are monsters, and that they are made-up.


That’s the clearest and most thorough explanation of the word Daesh that I’ve read; thanks for posting it!

And I hope it finally catches on here in the US; please stop calling them ISIS, folks. There’s a perfectly lovely ancient Egyptian goddess who has already claimed that name (ok, that’s actually the name the ancient Greeks gave her, but still).


Agreed. In UK the media seems to have largely dropped ISIS and settled for Islamic State. My suspicion is that they know/believe that audiences know full well there is no such thing* and yet it describes what IS, are/want succinctly, and reminds everyone that we are agin it. In some quarters (let’s say the Daily Heil might be close to such quarters) it also serves as a dog-whistle generic anti-muslim call.
And despite its meaning in Arabic, Daesh is meaningless in the west, so media assume their audiences would be confused and swtich off. “Islamic State” keeps the knee-jerk antipathy going - Daesh would result in “Who? (yawn)” and we can’t have apathy about it, now, can we (they’d say).

And * = well apart from the obvious ones, too numerous to list by name, some of whom take exception to their noses being rubbed in their allegedly islamic culture (much of which is just pure repression). Canada sure won’t do THAT again, eh?

1 Like

But giving them a cool sounding G.I. Joe villain name really moves column inches, xenophobia votes and brings in those sweet sweet Military Industrial Complex $$$s…


Now that they’ve lost the Iraqi oil income, who’s funding them?


Do you honestly think that xenophobia and bigotry are expanded via UN report? That the propagators of hatred are sitting on their hands waiting to be legitimized by a credible source as opposed to Fox News or some Twitter hashtag?

What should they do, not report a legitimate, imminent threat to member states?


Don’t worry, Anonymous is on it!


(You just reminded me)


Americans would never pronounce it properly. The would say “Daysh.”

I can hear the reporter now, “Daysh activity in Eye-rack.”


Three guesses, and all of them are wealthy nations who are on the other side of the “fence” from us people, so to speak.

1 Like
If an organisation wants to call itself ‘the light’, but in fact they are ‘the darkness’, would you comply and call them ‘the light’?’

Typically people and groups get called in journalistic contexts whatever they call themselves even if the people referring to them disagree with their names, though. People certainly can argue that most countries with “People’s” or “Democratic” in their title are neither, and yet China is formally referred to as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and East Germany was formally referred to as the German Democratic Republic (GDR). And to bring up light literally, the Communist terrorist group “Shining Path” was called that too.



I can understand the desire of a moderate muslim majority to try to disassociate ISIS/Daesh from Islam but ISIS is undeniably islamic. ISIS’s ideology represents a minority movement/theological position but it is neither un-islamic nor small. ISIS religious roots are founded in wahhabism, the dominant sect in Saudi-Arabia with a growing number of adherents around the globe (also thanks to Saudi-Arabia).


Hey, but the Repubbys hate that United Nations, World Government thing - trying to drink away our freedom…



Even ‘nostalgic’ cultural appropriation ain’t cool.



It’s a damn shame. A report like this from a legitimate joint like the United Nations, while no doubt accurate, will likely serve as a springboard for white nationalists, here and abroad, to launch fear-mongering, othering attacks on already vulnerable individuals seeking refuge from violent Middle Eastern and African nations.

Truthful security disclosures should always be legal. Period.

The juxtaposition between this article saying it’s a “shame” that an organisation makes a public report on the state of an international threat and the other saying that we should always permit people to report on things that might pose a hazard to the public is a bit incongruous, don’t you think?

I know different writers may have different views, but it does make BB seem ideologically inconsistent to me.

1 Like