When French President Francois Hollande addressed his country Saturday following the terror attacks in Paris that killed 129 and injured hundreds, he referred to the group that claimed responsibility for the attacks as “Daesh,” not the Islamic State, ISIS or ISIL. “It is an act of war that was committed by a terrorist army, a jihadist army, Daesh, against France,” Hollande told the nation from the Élysée Palace.
Though the word may be unfamiliar to some Western audiences, there’s a growing movement among world leaders, officials and Islamic scholars to use the term Daesh in an effort to delegitimize the group. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, too, used the term Thursday during a speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Daesh is the acronym of the group’s full Arabic name: al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. But by declaring itself both “Islamic” and a “state” in its name, the group is using a propaganda tactic that should be fought rather than accepted, some experts say. “A group simply announcing a caliphate is not enough to establish a caliphate,” Egyptian Islamic theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi wrote in an open letter to Muslim scholars.
Three over-arching goals in #Syria: defeat Daesh, bring end to civil war through political transition, support our partners in region.
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) November 13, 2015
The term Daesh is preferable to some because it accurately refers to the group, but can also be perceived as an insult meaning “to trample down and crush” or “a bigot,” depending on the Arabic conjugation. The malicious intent hasn’t escaped the group, which has reportedly already threatened to cut out the tongues of those who call them Daesh.
“Language matters,” the Boston Globe’s Zeba Khan wrote last month. “By reframing how we talk and think about these violent extremists, we can support the chorus of Muslim scholars who are intellectually pushing back on Daesh’s religious claims, the scores of Muslims around the world who have publicly rejected the group, and, ultimately, the silent majority of more than 1 billion Muslims who are as likely to reject the heinous actions of Daesh as we are.”