I decided to write this article in response to an article published by Military Times yesterday. This is also an article I have been debating writing dating back to an interview I had with Middle East Eye in November, but now seems like a better time than ever to do so. I am willing to bet that if members of our Armed Forces and multi-national publishers are confused about what to call these people, then the average citizen surely is clueless about it.
Before we get into the different names of “ISIS” there are a few important pieces of information that need to be addressed first. At their height in 2014, according to US intelligence, ISIS had roughly +30,000 foot soldiers soldiers on the ground in the Middle East. However, according to Kurdish intelligence figures, the number was more like 200,000.
At that same time there are roughly 1.2 billion Muslims on planet Earth. So, for all of you mathematically challenged folk out there, this means that statistically speaking, ISIS represents fractions of 1% of all Muslims on Earth. Consequentially, this is also why most Muslims tend to get offended when others say that ISIS is representative of “Islam” or speaks on behalf of the faith in any way.
Granted Erdogan has gone on to become a bit of tyrant since last July and may not be the best spokesperson for this type of message, he is none the less a very powerful man in this world and speaks directly to my point on this matter.
As for what ISIS stands for, they should be thought of as a religious collection of individuals – in a much broader sense they are a “denomination” of Islam. It just so happens that the Islamic State believes we are currently living in the “end times,” that the final 7 years of tribulation began in 2015 and that it is their duty/aspiration to manifest the events of the end times as they are laid out within religious scripture.
While this can be though of as crazy and/or extreme, remember, there is a fairly large number of “Christians” whom also believe we are currently living in or near the end times – for whatever reason.
You might have heard the term “Caliphate” thrown around in conjunction with the actions of ISIS, but this is not accurate. Caliphate refers to the leaderships of Islam, of which there really is none. Given the fact that there are Sunni’s and Shia’s and several denominations off Islam, such as the IS, no one group or person can possibly claim to be the leader of Islam today or anytime soon. While the Islamic State might like to consider themselves the future of the religion and want their movement to grow, affiliating them with a religious caliphate is giving them entirely too much credit.
With that said, where do all the different names for ISIS come from and what are the differences between them?
The Islamic State
You might notice in the paragraph above or in other articles covering ISIS that I refer to the group as “the Islamic State” or “the IS.” I do this because I believe it is the most “professional” way to address the group and it generally refers to the group as a whole, not the group as they exist in separate countries/geography’s. When members of the Islamic State attack in a country, say the USA or Germany for example, the term “ISIS” is not necessarily applicable. This is because the people conducting these attacks are not in Iraq and Syria, they are in American and Germany.
I think everyone by now realizes that this simply means the Islamic State as they exist inside Iraq and Syria, where the group first rose to power and where the majority of Islamic State fighters remain to this day. This acronym has become the most common way to refer to the group in general and even if it is not necessarily applicable to the situation, this is the name most everyone around the world has come to recognize.
I tend to notice that the only people whom use this term on a regular basis these days are active or former members of the US military, though I am not entirely sure why that is. The Levant is a historical term encompassing portions of the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean – including Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and in a broader sense Libya, Somalia and the island of Cyprus.
As the group started to expand their presence outside of just Iraq and Syria, the term ISIL started to become more popular. Generally speaking the term ISIL now refers to members of the Islamic State operating throughout the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East. Basically, the larger the group expands and the further away from Iraq and Syria they get in the region, the more applicable ISIL becomes to explain them.
There are different interpretations of the word, which is actually and acronym for the Arabic phrase of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The most fitting explanation I have heard to date is that the word means a person or people whom force their beliefs onto others, but there are also different interpretations out there.
It is important to note that the word Daesh is specifically meant as an insult and every time the word is used it is meant in a derogatory way. For this very reason, National Security advisors have warned people against using the term as it may incite violence and make people unnecessary targets. This is because members of the IS have threatened to cut out the tongues of anyone whom speaks the word and have been known to launch cyber attacks against publishers whom write it.
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