What the rise of ISIS means for other ISISes


A member loyal to the Islamic State waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria June 29, 2014. (REUTERS/Stringer)

The extremist militants who have flocked under the banner of the "Islamic State" in Iraq and Syria have, according to reports, executed enemies and apostates, looted banks and Iraqi government arsenals and set about instituting an anachronistic, violently intolerant caliphate in the territories they have seized. First identified in the western media as ISIS (though that was a matter of contention among many English-language outlets, as I explored here), the group is now referred to simply as the Islamic State since the declaration of the caliphate.

But far from the contested cities of Iraq and Syria, even its old acronym has managed to wreak havoc. This week, the CEO of Isis, a mobile wallet app linked to U.S. cellular companies AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, announced that it would be renaming itself as a result of the growing global awareness of the jihadist advance in Iraq. "However coincidental, we have no interest in sharing a name with a group whose name has become synonymous with violence and our hearts go out to those who are suffering," said Isis CEO Michael Abbott.

Isis is not alone in the awkward name department. Here are others also implicated by phonetic association with the terror group:

ISIS, the American metal bandFive albums in the 2000s reveal, if nothing else, a highbrow appreciation of Western high literature and philosophy—with gestures to Don Quixote and late 18th century British social thinker Jeremy Bentham—but no close reading of the Koran. The band disbanded in 2010 and, given the news, perhaps that's for the best.

ISIS, the nuclear security think tankThe Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security has a high-minded mission to stop "the spread of nuclear weapons and related technology to additional nations and to terrorists," which probably doesn't sit well alongside the agenda of the jihadists' leadership.

ISIS, the British science research centerThis is a British government-funded operation, considered one of the research centers in the physical and life sciences in Europe. Here's how they describe themselves:

ISIS produces beams of neutrons and muons that allow scientists to study materials at the atomic level using a suite of instruments, often described as ‘super-microscopes’. It supports a national and international community of more than 2000 scientists who use neutrons and muons for research in physics, chemistry, materials science, geology, engineering and biology. It is the most productive research centre of its type in the world.

Isis, the ancient Egyptian god—Isis was the Greek name applied to this fascinating Egyptian deity, a mother goddess to whom cults sprung up across the Mediterranean world and as far as the stony shores of Britain. The militants who now get associated with her name can only dream of having this pagan deity's influence and reach.

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.
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