ISIS/ISIL – What’s In A Name?


Flag_of_the_Islamic_State.svgI finally did a little digging to see why the US media refers to the terrorists operating in Syria and Iraq as ISIS while the White House calls them ISIL. Not that I got a good answer.

I did learn a few things, though. First, the term the President and all his staff use—ISIL—stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. Levant? Sorry, but I didn’t know that term so had to look it up. Turns out Levant refers to “the eastern part of the Mediterranean with its islands and neighboring countries” (Oxford-American Dictionary). A pretty broad area, in other words.

The terrorists themselves have changed the name of their organization more than once. In 2013 they adopted Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—ISIS—but just this past summer they changed to the broader name Islamic State, a term some news outlets are now using.

In all this it appears to me that varying groups are bending over backwards to get the name right, to stay up to date, or to be consistent. But here’s the thing—names carry meaning.

Add to that fact this key point played out in every one of our government elections—defining your opponent is key to success. For example, four years ago in an election here in California, Senator Barbara Boxer (not known for much by way of legislation or clout or pretty much anything in the Senate at the time) seemed to be in real trouble against the smart, well-connected woman entrepreneur, Carly Fiorina. But Boxer’s campaign team hit the air waves first, during a period of economic downturn and high unemployment, and defined Fiorina as someone shipping jobs overseas:

Boxer . . . was able to get TV commercials on the air earlier that defined Fiorina as an out-of-touch CEO and someone too socially conservative for the state (“Barbara Boxer Defeats Carly Fiorina”).

Jerry Brown, in his run (or re-run) for governor of California in 2010 did the same thing, defining his wealthy opponent, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, as someone trying to buy the governorship.

Years before, during the abortion wars, the media came under fire for defining the two sides with the names they favored—Pro-choice for groups favoring abortion and Anti-abortion for groups opposed to abortion. The latter, in contrast, called themselves Pro-life and referred to their opponents as Pro-abortion.

Good propaganda capitalizes on the power in a name, defining oneself before his opponent does or defining his opponent before he himself does.

I’m at a loss to understand, then, why both the media and the White House are showing the extremists trying to hijack Islam the kind of respectful attention that using their puffed up title affords them. Islamic State?

Imagine what people would think if a group of Christians decided to declare Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska the Protestant State. Would the media and the White House politely be calling those Christians the PS or the PTOKN? Not likely.

But this past June these Muslim extremists went a step farther. They showed their hand by declaring a caliphate headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (known by his supporters as Amir al-Mu’minin, Caliph Ibrahim). “A caliphate represents a sovereign state of the entire Muslim faithful, (the Ummah), ruled by a caliph under Islamic law (sharia)” (Wikipedia).

Caliph refers to “the chief Muslim civil and religious ruler, regarded as the successor of Muhammad” (Oxford-American Dictionary). The group, then, claims dominance over the Islamic world:

In its self-proclaimed status as a caliphate, it claims religious authority over all Muslims worldwide, and aims to bring most Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its political control (Wikipedia).

In other words, this group of extreme terrorists has taken upon itself the mantle of their most respected religious figure and, by the newest iteration of their name, are declaring themselves to be THE representation of Islam. My guess is Saudi Arabia doesn’t agree, or Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Iran, Turkey, or any of the other Muslim countries.

Why then, do we here in the US politely go along with their self-aggrandizement? Why are we not defining them as they certainly appear to Christians and to many non-Christians as well—manipulative, power-grabbing terrorist bullies. We could call them MPTB for short, since initials seem to be all the rage these days.

Names matter.

God thinks so, which was why He gave the command to treat His name as holy.

Muslims think so too, holding the name of their Prophet in highest honor.

Propagandists (and campaign managers fit into this category) understand the power of tagging labels on those they support or oppose.

It seems to me it’s past time that Americans wake up to the power of a name. We bandy God’s name around as if He has no meaning, but we fire people for daring to call another individual “the N word,” or some other offensive term.

We validate terrorists by calling them the Islamic State (whether IS or ISIS or ISIL) and we disparage Christians and Church by labeling them “traditional” or (horrors!) “fundamental.”

Because names have meaning and communicate, it’s important to use them wisely and with purpose.

God’s name should be revered, whether we call Him God or Yahweh or Father or Lord or address His Son, Jesus or speak of His Holy Spirit. All should matter because He matters. Those of us who bear the name of Christ should validate His importance to us by conducting ourselves in obedience to Him.

But in this topsy-turvy world where good is being called evil and evil, good, we put more effort in calling a heinous terrorist group by its “right” name than we do identifying God.

What too few people realize is that one day ISIS or IS or America or all other names will pale in significance, and the whole world will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. There’s the name that matters most!

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Published in: on October 15, 2014 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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