Meet ‘QSIS’: A new twist in what to call the extremist group rampaging in Iraq and Syria

August 26, 2014

A resident of Tabqa waves an Islamist flag after Islamic State militants took over the Syrian government's air base in Raqqah province. (Reuters)

We call the group the Islamic State, but others call it ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant); in Arabic-speaking countries, the militant group is commonly referred to as al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham (DAIISH or داعش).

Now, there's another name for the group that has brutally captured large swaths of Syria and Iraq: “al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria” or more simply, QSIS.

That new name comes not from the extremists themselves, but from Egypt, where a leading Islamic authority, Dar al-Ifta, has asked people to stop using the term "Islamic State."

“The initiative by Dar al-Ifta came to express the institution’s rejection of many stereotypes that attach the name of Islam to bloody and violent acts committed by such groups,” Ibrahim Negm, an adviser to Egyptian grand mufti Shawqi Allam, told al-Arabiya News on Monday.

Dar al-Ifta, an institute for the study of Islamic law with links to the Egyptian state, called out Western media outlets, including The Post, for using the term "Islamic State."

In case you hadn't been following, the naming of the extremist group has been quite a saga. A few months ago, there was a disagreement over whether to call the group ISIS or ISIL because of the different ways the Arabic original could be translated. ISIS was used by many news organizations (including this one), but the U.S. government kept using ISIL. Some observers, such as Syrian analyst and journalist Hassan Hassan, argued that both names were ultimately inaccurate.

The confusion worsened June 29, when a spokesman for the group, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, said it was renouncing the ISIS/ISIL appellation as it had broken down national borders and created a caliphate. It would now simply be the Islamic State (al-Dawla al-Islamiya). The Post switched to using this term, but many others, including the U.S. government, stuck with ISIS/ISIL.

The Soufan Group, a consulting firm that tracks jihadist groups, argued that the re-branding process has been "struggling," though honestly, with Islamic State flags appearing in London and in New Jersey, it is hard to say that the group's broader branding as the world's preeminent extremist Islamist group isn't going well.

The request from Dar al-Ifta follows a completely reasonable line of argument: The Islamic State grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq. However, the name request is making a far broader point: that allowing Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL to brand itself as the face of Islam is unfair to the vast majority of Muslims whose views are far different. It's also a message to other groups, such as Nigeria's Boko Haram, that appear to be taking cues from the Islamic State (or rather, QSIS). “We are afraid that such incorrect stereotypes will be rooted in the minds of Muslim and non-Muslim viewers alike," Negm told al-Arabiya.

Dar al-Ifta has launched a Facebook and Twitter campaign to get QSIS to stick. Will it work? There certainly is a history of media preferring names that delegitimized extremist groups: In the 1970s, German newspapers referred to the far-left terror group Red Army Faction as the "Baader-Meinhof Gang," for example, deliberately ignoring the name the group had chosen for itself.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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