There is a terrorist organization out there right now that we’ve all heard of and the English translation of its name is commonly shortened to ISIL. Yes, I’m referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. You may be asking, as the title of the piece does, Where (or what) the Heck is the Levant? That’s a valid question. Here’s the answer.
The term is also occasionally employed to refer to modern events, peoples, states or parts of states in the same region, namely Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey are sometimes considered Levant countries…
That comes from a five second search on Wikipedia, though I already knew the answer from my regular reading about the Age of Sail (I’m a nerd, deal with it). It was a commonly visited place on Mediterranean trade routes (coffee, among other staples) and therefore the name was commonplace at the time. The word levant, by the way, just means East, when you get down to it.
All of this history might get you asking, Why Should I Care? Valid question. The answer to that is, this post isn’t really for you. It is for the American Media.
You see, the American Media insists on referring to ISIL as ISIS, despite the fact that our Government, Military and the rest of the known world all refer to it as ISIL. Why do they do that? you might ask. I have 3 theories.
1. It’s catchier. We all have heard the name ISIS before, even if we don’t know that she was the ancient Egyptian goddess of health, marriage and wisdom. (again, quick 5 minute Wikipedia search) So using a name we already know and are comfortable with is easier on the brain and tongue than using ISIL. Also, lazier.
2. They have no idea where the Levant is. This is pretty normal, it isn’t a commonly used word anymore. But then that begs the question of why wouldn’t they look it up? They might also say “It refers to ‘larger Syria’.” Which is an even more archaic reference so I don’t see how that’s supposed to help.
3. They think you are too dumb to understand “Levant”. The American Media, as a whole, is trained to write as if their stories are being read or listened to by pre-teens. I’m not kidding. That’s what they teach you in Journalism school. So taking that into account, they have absolutely no trust in their audience doing a 5 minute Wiki search and figuring out where or what the Levant is, so they just skip it and go with the catchier name. This is the most likely option.
Why is this a problem? you might ask. Well, it leads to a lot of misinformation and fear-mongering. If you think the self-named “Islamic State” is only operating in Iraq and Syria, well then you might get alarmed when you hear about the Russian passenger plane just brought down over the Sinai Peninsula. “Oh no! Is ISIS spreading?” “No, ISIL is right where they always said they were.”
NPR even admits the confusion in a piece and admits that ISIS isn’t really the best option, but continues to use it.
ISIS, ISIL or Islamic State
And, finally, you might ask “Why does it matter?” Valid question. It matters because words have power. They always have, they always will.
If you call these terrorists “The Islamic State” without categorizing it as self-named or self-described, you validate them. You are giving them the recognition they want as a state. That could be very bad.
If you call these terrorists ISIS, you misrepresent their influence, impact and scope, minimizing the danger and the threat they represent. “They’re just in Syria and Iraq.” They are a very real and very large threat and should not be minimized.
If you call these terrorists ISIL, you use the same name that our Government and Military is using, and the one that is the most accurate, but less liked by the terrorists. They think “Levant” is a colonial era reference and therefore degrading. Personally, I’ll use any name that they find degrading.
So, accuracy, truth and mocking ISIL. Do you really need any more reasons to use the right acronym?