why some call group ISIS, others ISIL
If you’re following the ongoing crisis in Iraq, you’ve probably encountered the conflicting acronyms used for the jihadist group storming through the country. Many news organizations that operate in English began identifying the outfit as ISIS, shorthand for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, when it emerged as a dangerous fighting force two years ago, launching terror strikes and carving out territory amid the Syrian civil war.
But the acronym that’s now deployed by many agencies, including the Star Tribune, as well as the United Nations and the State Department — and President Obama — is ISIL, for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Here’s how the Associated Press justified switching its acronym style from ISIS to ISIL:
“In Arabic, the group is known as Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham, or the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. The term “al-Sham” refers to a region stretching from southern Turkey through Syria to Egypt (also including Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan). The group’s stated goal is to restore an Islamic state, or caliphate, in this entire area. The standard English term for this broad territory is “the Levant.” Therefore, AP’s translation of the group’s name is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.”
But Syrian analyst Hassan Hassan stresses the distinction between “al-Sham” and “Bilad al-Sham”; the former is often used to signify Syria or Damascus, the latter the wider Levant. He also makes this point about the usage of the term “the Levant,” which is slightly dated: If we concede again that “al-Sham” means not only Syria, then there is a name for that: Greater Syria. When we use the older term “Levant”, that should be used alongside the older name “Mesopotamia” for Iraq. When you use modern “Iraq,” use the modern term “Greater Syria.”
But neither ISIS nor ISIL are as accurate as “DAIISH,” the Arabic shorthand for the group that no one in the English-language media seems to use.
In the larger battlefield of copy style controversies, the distinction between ISIS or ISIL is not so great. In other circumstances, such decisions carry genuine political freight: for decades, many news outlets have kept using Burma to identify the former British colony in Southeast Asia rather than Myanmar, the name for the nation that was put into place by a junta. But as the country’s slow transition to democracy has taken effect, we’ve seen more institutions making the switch.