Describing the Islamic State in news copy has confounded the Associated Press, a careful custodian of precise and neutral journalism terminology. A policy statement back in June pledged the wire service to the acronym “ISIL,” for “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” That shorthand, concluded the AP, most loyally reflected the translation of the organization’s name in Arabic, which is Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham.
Fine, until the leaders of the group sought to “rebrand” themselves in July as simply “Islamic State”. The AP doesn’t want to simply swallow that rebranding measure, for concern that “Islamic State” sends the message that the territories controlled by the group’s leaders is a sovereign and recognized state. So the outlet is going to use formulations like “Islamic State group” or “fighters from the Islamic State group.” (The Washington Post calls the group the Islamic State, as does the New York Times, which changed its policy this week.)
A story on the change by the AP’s Vivian Salama notes that propaganda has propelled the Islamic State group and its “name is very much a part of that.”
The wire service’s approach is well reasoned, though the easily spoken acronyms that have emerged — “ISIS” and “ISIL” — are likely to continue dominating televised discussions of the Islamic State group.