The BBC has rejected demands by British lawmakers to stop using the term "Islamic State" when referring to the jihadist group that is carving out a self-declared Caliphate in the Middle East.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the BBC's director general, said that the proposed alternative, "Daesh," is pejorative and using it would be unfair to the Islamic State, thereby casting doubt upon the BBC's impartiality.
Prime Minister David Cameron recently joined the growing chorus of British politicians who argue that the name "Islamic State" is offensive to Muslims and should be banned from the English vocabulary.
During an interview with BBC Radio 4's "Today" program on June 29 — just days after a jihadist with links to the Islamic State killed 38 people (including 30 Britons) at a beach resort in Tunisia — Cameron rebuked veteran presenter John Humphrys for referring to the Islamic State by its name.
When Humphrys asked Cameron whether he regarded the Islamic State to be an existential threat, Cameron said:
"I wish the BBC would stop calling it 'Islamic State' because it is not an Islamic state. What it is is an appalling, barbarous regime. It is a perversion of the religion of Islam, and, you know, many Muslims listening to this program will recoil every time they hear the words 'Islamic State.'"
Humphrys responded by pointing out that the group calls itself the Islamic State (al-Dawlah al-Islamiyah, Arabic for Islamic State), but he added that perhaps the BBC could use a modifier such as "so-called" in front of that name.
Cameron replied: "'So-called' or ISIL [the acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] is better." He continued:
"But it is an existential threat, because what is happening here is the perversion of a great religion, and the creation of this poisonous death cult, that is seducing too many young minds, in Europe, in America, in the Middle East and elsewhere.
"And this is, I think, going to be the struggle of our generation. We have to fight it with everything that we can."
Later that day in the House of Commons, Cameron repeated his position. Addressing Cameron, Scottish National Party MP Angus Robertson said that the English-speaking world should adopt Daesh, the Arabic name for the Islamic State, as the proper term.
Daesh, which translates as Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (Syria), is the Arabic equivalent to ISIL. Daesh sounds similar to the Arabic word "Daes," which means "one who crushes something underfoot," and "Dahes," which means "one who sows discord." As a result of this play on words, Daesh has become a derogatory name for the Islamic State, and its leaders have threatened to "cut the tongue" of anyone who uses the word in public.
"You are right to highlight the longer-term challenge of extremism and of radicalization. You have pointed out the importance of getting terminology right and not using the name 'Islamic State.' Will you join parliamentarians across this house, the US secretary of state and the French foreign minister in using the appropriate term?
"Do you agree the time has come in the English-speaking world to stop using Islamic State, ISIS or ISIL and instead we and our media should use Daesh — the commonly used phrase across the Middle East?"
"I agree with you in terms of the use of Islamic State. I think this is seen as particularly offensive to many Muslims who see, as I see, not a state but a barbaric regime of terrorism and oppression that takes delight in murder and oppressing women, and murdering people because they're gay. I raised this with the BBC this morning.
"I personally think that using the term 'ISIL' or 'so-called' would be better than what they currently do. I don't think we'll move them all the way to Daesh so I think saying ISIL is probably better than Islamic State because it is neither in my view Islamic nor a state."
Separately, more than 100 MPs signed a June 25 letter to the BBC's director general calling on the broadcaster to begin using the term Daesh when referring to the Islamic State. The letter, which was drafted by Rehman Chishti, a Pakistani-born Conservative MP, stated:
"The use of the titles: Islamic State, ISIL and ISIS gives legitimacy to a terrorist organization that is not Islamic nor has it been recognized as a state and which a vast majority of Muslims around the world finds despicable and insulting to their peaceful religion."
Scottish Nation Party MP Alex Salmond, in a June 29 newspaper column, wrote:
"We should start by understanding that in a propaganda war language is crucial.
"Any description of terrorists which confers on them the image that they are representing either a religion or a state must surely be wrong and an own goal of massive proportions. It is after all how they wish to refer to themselves.
"Daesh, sometimes spelled Daiish or Da'esh, is short for Dawlat al Islamiyah fi'al Iraq wa al Sham.
"Many Arabic-speaking media organizations refer to the group as such and there is an argument it is appropriately pejorative, deriving from a mixture of rough translations from the individual Arabic words.
"However, the real point of using Daesh is that it separates the terrorists from the religion they claim to represent and from the false dream of a new caliphate that they claim to pursue.
"It should become the official policy of the government and be followed by the broadcasting organizations."
The BBC, which routinely refers to Muslims as "Asians" to comply with the politically correct norms of British multiculturalism, has held its ground. It said:
"No one listening to our reporting could be in any doubt what kind of organization this is. We call the group by the name it uses itself, and regularly review our approach. We also use additional descriptions to help make it clear we are referring to the group as they refer to themselves, such as 'so-called Islamic State.'"
The presenter of the BBC's "The World This Weekend" radio program, Mark Mardell, added:
"It seems to me, once we start passing comment on the accuracy of the names people call their organizations, we will constantly be expected to make value judgements. Is China really a 'People's Republic?' After the Scottish referendum, is the UK only the 'so-called United Kingdom?' With the Greek debacle, there is not much sign of 'European Union.'"
London Mayor Boris Johnson believes both viewpoints are valid. In a June 28 opinion article published by the Telegraph, he wrote:
"Rehman's point is that if you call it Islamic State you are playing their game; you are dignifying their criminal and barbaric behavior; you are giving them a propaganda boost that they don't deserve, especially in the eyes of some impressionable young Muslims. He wants us all to drop the terms, in favor of more derogatory names such as "Daesh" or "Faesh," and his point deserves a wider hearing.
"But then there are others who would go much further, and strip out any reference to the words "Muslim" or "Islam" in the discussion of this kind of terrorism — and here I am afraid I disagree....
"Why do we seem to taint a whole religion by association with a violent minority? ...
"Well, I am afraid there are two broad reasons why some such association is inevitable. The first is a simple point of language, and the need to use terms that everyone can readily grasp. It is very difficult to bleach out all reference to Islam or Muslim from discussion of this kind of terror, because we have to pinpoint what we are actually talking about. It turns out that there is virtually no word to describe an Islamically-inspired terrorist that is not in some way prejudicial, at least to Muslim ears.
"You can't say "Salafist," because there are many law-abiding and peaceful Salafists. You can't say jihadi, because jihad — the idea of struggle — is a central concept of Islam, and doesn't necessarily involve violence; indeed, you can be engaged in a jihad against your own moral weakness. The only word that seems to carry general support among Muslim leaders is Kharijite — which means a heretic — and which is not, to put it mildly, a word in general use among the British public.
"We can't just call it "terrorism", as some have suggested, because we need to distinguish it from any other type of terrorism — whether animal rights terrorists or Sendero Luminoso Marxists. We need to speak plainly, to call a spade a spade. We can't censor the use of "Muslim" or "Islamic."
"That just lets too many people off the hook. If we deny any connection between terrorism and religion, then we are saying there is no problem in any of the mosques; that there is nothing in the religious texts that is capable of being twisted or misunderstood; that there are no religious leaders whipping up hatred of the west, no perverting of religious belief for political ends."
What does the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, have to say? In a May 2015 audio message, he summed it up this way:
"O Muslims, Islam was never for a day the religion of peace. Islam is the religion of war. Your Prophet (peace be upon him) was dispatched with the sword as a mercy to the creation. He was ordered to wage war until Allah is worshipped alone. He (peace be upon him) said to the polytheists of his people, 'I came to you with slaughter.' He fought both the Arabs and non-Arabs in all their various colors. He himself left to fight and took part in dozens of battles. He never for a day grew tired of war.
"So there is no excuse for any Muslim who is capable of performing hijrah [migration] to the Islamic State, or capable of carrying a weapon where he is, for Allah (the Blessed and Exalted) has commanded him with hijrah and jihad, and has made fighting obligatory upon him."
While Western politicians claim that the Islamic State is not Islamic, millions of Muslims around the world — referring to what is approved in the Islamic texts — believe that it is. While the former are performing politically correct linguistic gymnastics, the latter are planning their next religiously-inspired attacks against the West. A new twist on an old English adage: The sword is mightier than the pen.
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.