ISIS or ISIL, they’re still just terrorists

I was finally able to remember that ISIS, the jihadist group that’s rolling through Iraq now, stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Learned it well enough to type it without having to look it up every time (don’t count just now, when I originally typed Iran instead of Iraq). Then this afternoon I turned on the TV and heard some politician in Washington say “ISIL.” Huh?

Oh yes. The media may be sticking to ISIS, but it seems the U.N., the U.S. State Department, and Pres. Obama, among others, prefer ISIL — Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. And now so does the Associated Press.

Nobody is requiring I follow their style anymore, and I don’t have a current stylebook, but the AP offers the following reason for changing from ISIS to ISIL:

In Arabic, the group is known as Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham, or the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. The term “al-Sham” refers to a region stretching from southern Turkey through Syria to Egypt (also including Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan). The group’s stated goal is to restore an Islamic state, or caliphate, in this entire area.

The standard English term for this broad territory is “the Levant.” Therefore, AP’s translation of the group’s name is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

The Levant, eh? First time I’ve heard that. Anyway, it will be interesting to see if and how fast the media switch to ISIL, since most usually follow AP style.

These are the things editors get paid to worry about. And since I’m not being paid anymore …

Categories: International, Iraq, Syria, Writing

17 replies

  1. My paper’s not a fan of alphabet soup (nor am I, for that matter), but since I’m not on the news side anymore, I hadn’t really noticed how they were handling this particular thing. In checking the stories we’ve run, it looks like we’re writing around it (having at least one full reference to the group’s name, though) except in quotes, which usually use ISIL.
    I usually don’t get a new stylebook unless there are significant changes, which there haven’t really been for several years. I think the edition in my office is 2010. I’ll probably check the discussion on the AP group on LinkedIn before deciding if it’s time for a new one. I’ll have to steel myself first, though, because there are bigger word nerds than me! 😀

  2. I’ve heard them referred to as both ISIS and ISIL PT, and I ran across a reference to “The Levant” while gathering info for the post I did on the “talking heads” urging us to get involved. But as you say, they’re still just terrorists, and I think using their own verbiage to describe them only gives them honor they don’t deserve.

    • I couldn’t agree more. Calling them ISIL or The Levant just recognizes and publicizes their grandiose ideas. Same goes for all the other terrorist groups that we’re so quick to call by whatever grand names they dream up for themselves. Not to mention appellations like “warrior.” They’re common terrorists, criminals, thugs.

  3. I wonder if AP got permission from Oscar Levant’s estate.

  4. Haven’t used the AP style manual since my last college paper! I am sort of surprised they don’t make it available for free use on the web now to promote better writing, but maybe that is too naive? Wonder if WordPress might consider providing the AP as an aid for their bloggers?

    • I suspect most people, once they get out of school, wouldn’t touch a style book of any kind unless an employer insisted. The details that give editors gray hair are of little interest to other people. But we OCD anal-retentive types have to do something to make a living.

      Besides, providing a style book for WP bloggers would probably just result in a big fight over which style book to use. AP? Chicago? NYT?

      • Just to add to the chaos, the Government Printing Office\Style Manual and one issued by the Council of Biological Editors were two I was “married to” for the last couple of decades of my editing career. Probably are a whole lot of others in specialized publishing areas.

  5. (AP style?…screams and howls…oh, sorry. habit)
    Nobody mentioned it, but the real reason for the change is that Isis is an ancient Egyptian goddess and you know how DC must be PC and take great pain not to offend with words any possible group alive or dead. You just never know whom you might thoughtlessly offend. (especially the wrath of some goddess..)
    Of course those guys over there are also very respectful of ancient history….not careful with old 12th century historical structures or much art, but their (as approved) history will be tightly held.
    Got to be sensitivity guiding the change..
    Easier to call them those guys over there with guns killing, beheaded people, and destroying as much as possible along the way

    • I’ve no sympathy for the guys with the guns … or for the all the politically correct people vying to be the most politically correct when speaking of the guys with the guns. Since posting this, I’ve heard at least one other term (which I’ve forgotten but couldn’t pronounce anyway) that Anderson Cooper carefully explained was the word used “here in Iraq.” Well, la-di-da. Does that makes him more correct than anyone else?

"Whether it's the best of times or the worst of times, it's the only time we've got." ~ Art Buchwald

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