“The whole language is a machine for making falsehoods,” says the main character in Iris Murdoch’s first novel, Under the Net. His view is that the words we use trap us into seeing the world in a certain way. Orwell believed the same: if there’s no name for it, you can’t really think about it. Conversely, a name can be created for something that doesn’t really exist…
Then he traces the group’s earlier names, translating “jihad” as “struggle”:
This faction of Sunni fighters first called itself “Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad”, clearly a name for local consumption. It means The Group for Monotheism (tawhid) and Struggle (the literal meaning of jihad, a word as multivalent in English as it is in Arabic).
Multivalent? Should I stop reading there? Then he goes onto ISIS or ISIL, before saying:
But for an English-speaking audience, the message is lost: until you arrive at Islamic State, a title that recasts the idea of the caliphate – a pre-modern community of believers – for westerners used to a 19th-century model of nationhood. The shift is important because it suggests something substantial, a country with borders, laws and institutions. Look at the map of what it controls, however, and you’ll see anything but a state in the modern sense. Its territory snakes along riverbanks, grabbing towns here and there, extending its fingers into patches of desert.
Nope, the message wasn’t lost on me. I understand monotheism and jihad and something about the history of the Middle East. You should not assume everyone is total idiot about these things. And of course we know that it is not a state in the modern sense, but it is definitely trying to be one. To deny this is absurd.
He suggest that French attempt to call it “Daesh” won’t work because the utterly unpleasant actions of the group, whatever are they called, it make the new name seem dreadful too.
It seems to me like the author is simply arguing about nothing. I guess he can’t think of anything else to do! He makes one sensible statement:
Neither can anyone “crush” terror, or wage war on it.
That is very true and I am sick of hearing about a “War on Terror.” But it his main thesis – that the Islamic State is not a state – seems pointless. The Guardian is in a pickle over this. They have run many pieces saying that IS has nothing to do with Islam but I guess that was getting repetitive!
Saudi Arabia, which started out rather like ISIS, is now considered a state. It is just a question of grabbing and holding on to it. It has been like that throughout human history. If the al-Saud tribe succeeded, why not them?
The author is “David Shariatmadari, a deputy editor on the Guardian comment desk.” Shariatmadari is an Iranian name. I am not sure why he would call himself David though.