ISIS, ISIL , and Da’esh
What do the French term „Levant“ and the Arabic „Da’esh“ mean and why should we care?
The attacks in Paris on November 12 were planned and professional. They targeted undefended sites, and they caused massive casualties. The killing was for the sake of murder and terror alone.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) took credit for the carnage. The stated goal of ISIL is to establish a caliphate stretching from modern-day Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt. The original name for the group was ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, but the group clearly wants more than those territories. It uses the Arabic word „al-Sham,“ which refers to a much larger region of „Greater Syria“ or in archaic French „ The Levant“. In French, the Levant means „the lands of the rising sun,“ which includes the countries named above. The leaders of the United States and Great Britain began using the term in 2014 to show that they knew that the Islamic State intended to conquer far more terrritory than the original name had implied and to make it clear that they were willing to defend this territory.
When French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency after the Paris attacks, he intentionally used the Arabic term „Da’esh“ rather than the French „Levant“ to refer to the group. Daiish, Daesh or Da’esh translates as „Dawlat al-Islamiyah f’al-Iraq wa al-Sham“ or roughly the Islamic Nation of Iraq and Greater Syria (or the Levant).
So why would the French president use an Arabic term rather than a French one?
The answer is simple. Da’esh in Arabic has an additional meaning as an acronym, namely as a derogatory verb meaning „to tread,“„to stomp“ or „to crush,“ and President Hollande wanted to make abundantly clear that he does not see ISIL as a state but rather as a terrorist organization that needs to be crushed. His use of the term also showed solidarity with opponents of ISIL in the Levant, including the refugees escaping Da’esh’s terror.
In his remarks to the French nation, Hollande called the attacks „an act of war“ and promised merciless retribution towards those responsible. ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh, no matter what the name, the French President has made clear his intent to eradicate the organization by crushing it. French air attacks on the ISIL stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, and other sites prove this resolve. Europe is united in its condemnation of the Paris attacks. A line from La Marseillaise, the French national anthem perhaps best sums up the French response:
Tremble, tyrants and traitors
The shame of all good men
Tremble! Your parricidal schemes
Will receive their just reward
Against you, we are all soldiers