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ISIS vs. ISIL. What’s in a Name?

ISIS or ISIL head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He's no Romeo.

ISIS or ISIL head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He’s no Romeo.


In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the Bard of Stratford posited and Juliet articulated “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Juliet, vexed by the danger of a relationship with Romeo by virtue of his family heritage but nevertheless in love with the boy is making the point that who someone is matters more than what that person is called.

On a far less romantic note, way more dangerous than Capulets or Montagues (or Sharks or Jets in the New York iteration) is the Middle Eastern terrorist group alternately known as ISIS or ISIL, against which President Obama has declared war upon.

Thirteen years ago when former President George W. Bush launched the War on Terror, we had no such confusion as to the moniker of our foe, we knew them as al-Qaeda. Today, depending on who you’re listening to, we could be up against two different enemies who are actually one and the same. No, our adversary doesn’t have a split personality disorder – they know quite clearly who they are and what they stand for. We are the ones sowing the confusion.

If you listen to the President, or to John Kerry or to Chuck Hagel or to various members of the defense establishment, we are committed to “degrade and destroy” a group named “ISIL,” which stands for the “Islamic State In the Levant.” However, when watching the news, seeing some members of congress, hearing pundits and talking heads, reading news sites and such we are told that we’re fighting a nefarious organization named “ISIS,” which is short for the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”

Within any given newscast, we can see Administration spokespeople wax on about ISIL while the anchors, analysts and correspondents keep saying ISIS, sometimes directly to one another within the same conversation. How are we to agree on a long term strategy to eradicate this evil if we can’t agree on what to call them? A rose by any other name, indeed.

I believe we should all agree on “ISIS” and push the Administration to change their tune. Here’s why:

● “ISIS” is easy to pronounce, like “Hamas.” It just sounds better. ISIS is a nemesis. “ISIL” always comes across as awkward; it causes the tongue to make an unnatural pause before saying the next word. ISIS makes for better looking headlines, with the final “S” more graphically attractive than looking at an “L.” If we’re to spend a lot of time over the next few years talking about this group, we should make it as pleasant a linguistic experience as possible.

● “ISIS” sounds like the name of some ominous and dastardly group, like “Kaos” from Get Smart. Would Agents 86 and 99 have made any headway against “Kaol?” All evil and violent NGOs have cool names.

● “ISIL” on the other hand sounds like the last four letters of some cholesterol, diabetic or cardiac pharmaceutical – the kind that gets advertised all day on CNN, Fox and MSNBC. Is it ennobling to be up against a pill, even if most of these medications warn you of the danger of heart attack, stroke or death?

● The “L” in “ISIL” is for the “Levant,” an old-world word that stands for the Middle East, particularly for the area between the Mediterranean and Iran. Most Americans wouldn’t know where the Levant was if it fell on them – also – why give this group regional status? Isn’t it the President’s objective to bomb them back into some corner or Syria anyway?

There’s a scary-looking black-clad guy namedAbu Bakr al-Baghdadi who is the head of ISIS (or ISIL). Perhaps when our team of Navy Seals eventually gets to his lair in Syria, just before we pull the trigger, we can ask him which English-language acronym he prefers? After all, a Caliph should be able to write his own epitaph. Maybe we could send a message to his YouTube account asking him to clarify this debate for us before his next televised beheading?

My bet is al-Baghdadi will go for ISIS as he and his group seem to be very image conscious and media savvy. But in all seriousness, the American people will soon be clamoring for an end to the ISIS-ISIL ping-pong, especially if we’re being asking to support another trillion-dollar war effort. Juliet may not have cared much about names and labels but the American people deserve an adversary whose name is easy to pronounce and as we know from the play, ultimately the names did matter, which is why I’m “pro-ISIS” and “anti-ISIL.”

© 2014 by Howard Barbanel, All Rights Reserved.


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Posted by on September 15, 2014. Filed under Breaking News,Israeli News,Slider,World News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.