Worry less about what to call Isis, and more about how to fight them

By arguing about rhetoric in response to the Paris attacks, we make the western navel the centre of the action

28 November 2015

9:00 AM

28 November 2015

9:00 AM

‘They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He shends one of yoursh to the hospital, you shend one of hish to the morgue.’ Thus Sean Connery in The Untouchables, explaining how you fight a war ‘Chicago-style’. How would you adapt that, do we think, for our collective response to the Paris attacks? ‘They pull a gun, you pull a hashtag. They send 132 of yours to the morgue, you start calling them a slightly rude name.’

As they say on the internet: srsly?

Imagine you’re in Raqqa, having at last made hijrah from the family semi in Dudley. You’re chillaxing, maybe having a bit of a kickabout with the head of an apostate, when your friend calls you over to his laptop.

‘Look, brother. The kufirs have reacted to the blessed martyrdom operations in the hated capital of prostitution and garlic!’

‘What are they doing? Launching a ground invasion? Closing their borders?’

‘No — they’re — haha — they’re… you’ll not believe this, bruv. They’re still arguing over what to call us.’

‘You mean Isil or IS or Isis? I get a bit confused between those myself, if I’m honest.’

‘No. They’re really pissed off this time. They’ve started calling us Daesh, because they read somewhere that it offends us. Oh, except the BBC, which worries we shouldn’t be called terrorists because of bias, and they’re all arguing about that, too. ’

And there we can leave our jihadists, as they also say on the internet, rofling.

It’s perhaps symptomatic of a culture where name-calling is policed with a vigour once reserved for incitement to violence that the reaction to an act of real violence is to think of how we might retaliate by hurting someone’s feelings. It’s as if the giving and taking of offence — as recently seen on a university campus near you — has acquired the aura of a credible weapon of war. Could we no-platform Isis into submission?

Real energy is being spent on this. We fretted that we shouldn’t call it Islamic State because — zing! — it isn’t Islamic and isn’t a state. Stern proclamations were issued about using ‘so-called’, and I don’t doubt thought was given to whether miming scare quotes would compromise the dignity of the Ten O’Clock News. It’s as if we worried the average viewer might be tricked into sympathising for those head-hacking sodcopters because of an absence of proper disclaimers.

Now we’re favouring Daesh — the acronym for ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyah fi ‘l-’Iraq wa-sh-Sham; worth memorising for the pub quiz — which is what they call themselves, but whose acronymic form sounds like a rude word and doesn’t emphasise the Islamic element. Hilary Benn, meanwhile, has started calling them ‘Isil/Daesh’, which, at least to my ear, immediately conjures Captain Von Trapp crooning ‘Edelweiss’ to Julie Andrews.

Real energy has been spent, too, on worrying whether François Hollande’s declaration that France is at ‘war’ is a political mistake, because it dignifies Isis with statehood: nations only go to war with other nations, right? This sixth-form debating point has had actual airtime. I doubt that — keen though they are on national self-determination — the jihadis wonder whether to describe themselves as militants or terrorists or fighters as they’re strapping on their bomb-belts.

Even lightweight but unobjectionable acts of clicktivism on social media — 132 people dead in Paris; I’ll put the tricolore on my Facebook avatar — have prompted public soul-searching. Isn’t it, like, racist and Eurocentric to put a French flag on when you didn’t change your avatar for Beirut? And isn’t Facebook, like, this totally white corporate thing that’s trying to monetise your grief?

What all these phenomena have in common is that they make the western navel the centre of the action. They turn a murderous attack on civilians into a conversation among ourselves about the technicalities of nomenclature and the moral irreproachability of our own reactions. Words matter; but they don’t matter all that much.

And, yes: I’m aware that, in writing about the handwringing about the verbal shading of how we respond to the actual murders committed by actual murdering bastards, I risk adding an extra stroke of the chin.

So let’s return to our jihadis. From their end of the telescope I’d suggest that all this looks, at a personal level, like narcissism. It looks at a political level like tokenism. And it looks at a sociocultural level like what, in the days of the last great Evil Empire, they used to call decadence.

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  • Kasperlos

    Thanks for surfacing the insanity of our betters, media, academics. The lunacy of the West in wasting hot air over what to call thugs, murderers, butchers shows the depths of the incompetents in – watch out here it comes – so-called leadership positions. We’re doomed.

    • We’re not doomed, but otherwise I agree with you. However, harsh decisions will need to be made about Islam. It is not a religion, it is a political movement; it seeks to replace parliament and every other structure of state. Anyone who believes in the literal teaching of the Koran – which is a manual on how to take over societies and countries – needs to leave Britain.

  • Wolfgang Amadeus

    “Good” things done in the name of islam are beautiful, life-affirming flowerings of the Muslim faith.

    “Bad” things done in the name of islam have nothing to do with islam.

    Odd, that.

  • JustSomeChap

    Just call them bastards and let’s get on with it. I only ask that we do so in a manner that will solve the problem and not just screw things up worse.

  • hobspawn

    Common sense will have prevailed when we just call mosques ‘forts’, ISIS/ISIL/ISUK ‘Islam’, and terrorists ‘muslims’.

    • Joe Long

      There’s a mosque opposite the old Bham mint, looks like it’s got battlements at the top – bears more than a passing resemblance to a desert fort. The sadly rejected plan for Dudley mosque, had it gone through, would have dominated the skyline in a triumphalist statement entirely reminiscent of the Norman castle – which was built to cow the populace nearly 1000 years ago

      • Dogsnob

        Rejected, this time. They play the long game.

  • William Brown

    Let’s be honest here shall we?. There will be many, many more deaths on the streets of Europe before this situation changes.

    With, perhaps one, or two notable exceptions, it will be the public who will lead governments in the fight-back against Islamic extremists. Eventually, John and Jane Doe will take the lead, once they understand that their politicians cannot, through lack of courage – (be they scared of Islam, or the media), make any significant decisions to protect the population.

  • Mark

    Send this article to LBC presenter Iain Dale, who has been getting practically orgasmic on deciding to call them Daesh, “Cos they don’t like it.” He mentioned it a number of times on his radio show, and also on the BBC and even wrote a bloody blog on the subject.
    Right from the off on this, there have been those so embarrassed by the fact the word “Islamic” appears in the title, they have fought their own battle to get loads of others, like Dale and the BBC, all wobbly about its use.
    Maajid Nawaz, and Arabic speaker, points out that Daesh is the exact Arabic acronym for the English equivalent ISIS. But is seems that “Dash” is a bit of an insulting word in Arabic, and “Deash” sounds a bit like it so………
    When you think about it, 2015 has been the year of words. How much effort has been wasted over “Daesh” and “Swarm”? Even being discussed in Parliament.

    • Tamerlane

      To be expected. Iain Dale is a New Lab Tory.

    • Shazza

      How about calling them ‘so called’ Daesh.

  • zanzamander

    The ridiculous length some BBC correspondents and news readers go to so as to be as politically correct as possible to these Jihadis is ridiculous. They’ve now started calling it “so called Islamic state”. Frank Gardner takes the biscuit on this as during one of his reports he must have said this “so called” at least a dozen times to the extent that even he, going by the tremble in his voice, must have seen how ridiculous he was sounding.

    This whole business of calling, what is in fact an “Islamic Jihadi terrorism”, is really exercising our national broadcaster’s mind.

    Obama, who kept on saying that Osama bin Laden was not a Muslim, then proceeded to honour the dead terrorist a full blown Islamic sea burial once the marines killed him – just so as not to upset any live Muslims! Wtf!?! As they say on the internet.

    But this business with Isis and what to call them is like saying we better not call it an Islamic state because it will upset the Muslims and if we do then those very same Muslims will be so upset with us that they’ll go and join the Islamic state!

    Bind boggles at how much more craven we can get in order to please our mortal enemies.

    • Dogsnob

      ‘So called’ correspondents working for a ‘so called’ British institution.

  • Tamerlane

    Call them Saudi Arabia and bomb accordingly.

  • Badger

    ISIS is just the latest brand, previously it was Al Qaeda. We can turn Raqqa into glass and they will pop up under a different name with the same objectives. Cut off their money, lay siege to them and keep them at arms length, and send any sympathisers to live with them. That seems to me to be the least costly way to deal with it since we are only playing whack-a-mole anyway.

  • Rowland Nelken

    One advantage of social media re. murderous cults is that it can unite and provide a community for those who feel isolated. I was raised in an obscene Christian cult, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Because this corrupt publishing and property corporation is pretty smart at PR, too many people imagine this misery making outfit to be nothing more than a bunch of earnest, albeit nerdy evangelicals.

    In pre internet days I had wondered if my detestation of my infant Alma Mater was a symptom of my own intolerance. I now know there is a global community of ex JWs with similar feelings.

    Muslims who cease to believe all that Koranic bullshit often fear to ‘come out’ as it will mean rejection by family and erstwhile community. There are now, as with ex Jehovah’s Witnesses, online communities of ex Muslims, as impatient with what they call the ‘regressive left’, those who refuse to countenance that there might be some connection between mass murder and the Islamic scriptures and preachers, as they are with racist scumbags who yell ‘terrorist’ at anyone who happens to be a bit brown coloured.

  • Jacobi

    This is an important question. We have to be clear in our own minds what we are up against in this war. The enemy is commonly called ISIL but I see now
    that other terms such Daesh are being used.

    We are up against two of the main branches of Islam. The Iranian or Persian one known as the Shias, and the Sunni branch.

    Of the two, the Saudi-Arabian backed, financed, supplied, Sunni branch of Islam, commonly known as ISIL, is by far the more deadly and intransigent of
    the two. In order to destroy it the war will have to go well beyond Syria.

    Saudi Arabia and its oil wealth will have to be dismantled, destroyed – or whatever the military commanders decide. But it has to go. After all there is
    now a surfeit of oil in the world thanks to fracking.

    As for the enormous USA arms industry supplied to Saudi Arabia, much finding its way into Syria as we have seen recently , we will need all the arms we can get for our own forces before this mess is sorted out.

  • Harryagain

    One here everyone should watch.


    • LittleRedRidingHood

      The beer drinking, drug smoking Anjem Choudary cannot speak arabic even though he thinks he can.


      He is an Islamist, an extremist and exactly the sort of person we should be marginalising….. Actually arresting and deporting.

      Spread this video around. He was made to look a complete t!t.

      • Sean L

        Good one, shows how this guy is almost entirely our own creation: the doctrine of multi-culturalism having established the ground in which he’s carved out a niche for himself as an identity politician. In that sense Islam operates as a kind of pretext for this type, being as much a political ideology as a religious belief system. Hence spiritual Sufists at one end of the spectrum and this type at the other, with their correspondingly contrasting interpretations of Jihad: the one political, the other personal.

    • LittleRedRidingHood
    • colchar

      Why do so many in positions of authority in Britain insist on crawling to the followers of this cancerous religion?

  • trobrianders

    Let the Sunnis sort out Daesh. It’s their problem. We can occasionally bomb them after the odd atrocity here.

    • Dogsnob

      I was, and remain until otherwise advised, given to understand that these Daesh chappies are Sunnis? What is going on anymore?

      • trobrianders

        Iraq/Syria’s Sunnis are currently being lorded over by ISIS but they’re not too happy about it.

        • Dogsnob

          ISIS themselves are devout Anabaptists, right?

          • trobrianders

            Big supporters of Trump too.

          • Dogsnob

            I’m intrigued, please elucidate.

          • trobrianders

            Both Trump and ISIS believe Islam is wholly intolerant of any other system of human organisation.

          • Dogsnob

            I don’t think your word ‘believe’ conveys the reality. Trump might suspect, and ISIS insist.
            In any case neither would garner support from the other.

  • Eques

    The hard truth is that the French and allies have been bombing the living crap out of ISIS for a year.

    We had a very graphic demonstration of how effective it was 2 weeks ago.

    Cameron is well aware of this – you can see it in his eyes. He in no shape or form actually wants to involve Britain and more importantly himself in this mess.

    I bet he wishes at the moment he was a lefty like Corbyn who can get away with actually saying the above.

  • Dogsnob

    Ah but we didn’t just start to call them a rude name. We totally crushed them by making our Facebook page bear the Tricolour for a couple of days. I can’t see them ever getting over it.

  • TrippingDwarves

    You’ve got me singing ‘Edelweiss’ now.

    Next up, ‘How do you solve a problem like Sharia?’

    • fundamentallyflawed

      shhh.. don’t mention Sharia – Its nothing to do with Islam remember

      • TrippingDwarves

        Oops. My bad.

  • Lazy Thor

    They’re Islamic State. Problem solved. Who’s to say that it’s the wrong interpretation of Islam, and on what basis do they make their claims?

    • colchar

      Lefties, and they are always right aren’t they?

  • Wee Mental Davie

    I like to call them muslim terrorists, because that is exactly what they are. It also covers all other groups of like minded scum who wish to kill us in the name of religion.

    We will get tough soon but I do hope it does not take death on our UK streets to do so.

    • Zaba

      more death, you mean…….

      270 Million dead humans over islam’s too long 14 century history has not yet done the trick.

  • mikewaller

    Please get the childish, fool of a Tory MP who started kicking up when the BBC first used the term “Isis” as he believed it gave them credibility, to write this very sensible piece out longhand10 times!

  • Suriani

    The man from ‘da3ish’ is holding his team logo upside down. Can he read Arabic?

  • Zaba

    Clearly THE biggest problem in the West is lack of education about islam.


  • Nemo

    Deliberately avoiding the elephant in the room – that they are Muslims, and read the Koran – when talking about Islamic State is not helping anyone. If politicians fear that using ‘Islamic’ in a terrorist group’s name will radicalise Muslims, they’ve got the wrong end of the stick.

    I would heartily recommend listening to Maajid Nawaz – he’s what every disillusioned Muslim should listen to, as he was, in his youth, associated with the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Now he preaches against Islamism and radicalisation.

    One of the groups who have suffered most in this conflict are the Kurds, and it is a shame the West isn’t doing more to support them. They are a fierce fighting force, and they are a great light in the region. They are greatly underestimated.

  • Arthur Ascii

    What’s the difference between a suicide bomber who blows up Shias and suicide bomber who blows up Christians?

    The first is symptomatic of a long, historic split in Islam
    The second has nothing to do with Islam