The French Fight the War of Words Right: Call ISIS "Daesh"

I need not elaborate on the ridicule that the American public heaped upon President Obama for describing the Islamic State as “un-Islamic”, and much as I agree with said ridicule, I can understand the logic of the decision. After all, one tactic for fighting your enemies is to call the not the true representatives of their ideology, country, religion, and so on. Still, I am in agreement with Karl Sharro on the matter:


And he’s right. We are up against masters of this. Their preferred way of dealing with Muslims whom they deem to be insufficiently radical and bloodthirsty (which can range from ordinary civilians to governments to other terrorist groups) is to pronounce them to be takfiri–and then kill them. Our enemies know that Obama isn’t a strong leader in foreign policy, and at any rate, he’s a Christian trying to decide who’s the most Islamic. To make such an announcement, and in the way that he did, is laughable to them. If we really want to learn how to wage a war of words with the Islamic State, we should look to, of all places, the French. The country’s government disputes the idea that we should even call them ISIS, ISIL, or IS. Instead, they’ve taken a lesson from the Arabs themselves. As France24 reports:

From now on the French foreign ministry will be calling it Daesh, the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS or the Islamic State group.

Last week, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius asked journalists and media organisations to do the same.

He said: “This is a terrorist group and not a state. I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims and Islamists. The Arabs call it ‘Daesh’ and I will be calling them the ‘Daesh cutthroats’.”


As France24 also notes, this name originated in Arabic and Iranian media back in 2013 as a way of denigrating ISIS and for referencing the group without saying the words “Islamic” or “State”. It was hoped that by doing so, they’d not only insult their enemies but also reduce the chance that their own people would run off and join them. Here’s why it’s so offensive:

It is also considered insulting, and the IS itself doesn’t like the name Daesh one bit. Beyond the acronym, “Daesh” sounds lie the Arabic “Daes”, meaning “one who crushes something underfoot” as well as “Dahes”, which means “one who sows discord”. Dahes is also a reference to the Dahes wal Ghabra period of chaos and warfare between Arab tribes which is famous in the Arab world as one of the precursors of the Muslim age. “Daesh” therefore has considerably negative undertones. There can be little political ambiguity behind the French government’s decision to deploy Daesh as a linguistic weapon.

They hate the name so much that they have threatened to cut out the tongues of anyone who calls them “Daesh”. The term “daeshi” is also used in the Arab world as a way of referring to a bigot who imposes his views upon people. So there you have it. We should stop using ISIS, ISIL, and IS interchangeably and instead call them “Daesh”. This tactic the French are using works because we know that the group hates being called by this name, and it shows some level of sympathy for the people who have to live under Daesh’s bloodthirsty, tyrannical rule by recognizing that we’re paying attention to what they’re saying, even in some small way. Since the word “jihadist” is also a noble term to these guys, we should find out another word for them. Fortunately for us, the Twitterverse has given us a potential solution: daeshbags.



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