Why ISIL and not ISIS?


We’re all asking the same question that Shakespeare asked almost 400 years ago, what’s in a name?



When President Barack Obama addressed the nation last week regarding military action against ISIS, people noticed something?


During the speech he wasn’t calling them ISIS. He was referring to the terrorist group as ISIL? So was he just mispronouncing a simple acronym as ISIS or was there more to the story? As with everything in politics, there was much more to it. To understand President Obama’s preference of calling them ISIL over ISIS, you have to understand the logic behind it.


First off, the acronym for ISIS is easy to understand as it comes from the name the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Since the group’s conflict is in the direct regions of Iraq and Syria, the acronym of ISIS makes a lot of sense. Not to mention it’s easier for Americans to frame the narrative, making it easier to understand the conflict at large. This is probably why many of the American news outlets prefer to use ISIS instead of ISIL. It generally makes framing the issue easier.


So what about the acronym ISIL? If ISIS frames the terrorist group’s plans – to create an Islamic state within both Syria and Iraq – and helps those outside the region understand the conflict better, why even use ISIL? Because in many ways, it’s technically more correct to the terrorist group’s ambitions.


The acronym ISIL stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.


What’s “Levant” you ask?


Well as the Associate Press explains it, when they also decided to change 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.”


ISIS Control

Eventually ISIS (or ISIL) wants to control a much larger area than what is shown here.


In other words, this terrorist group isn’t just content on creating an “Islamic state” out of just Syria and Iraq, but a major portion of the Middle-East which include US allies like Israel and Jordan. This portion that they want to control is referred to many as Levant. For President Obama to come out and address the terrorist group as ISIL and not ISIS, this clearly tips his hand on how he wanted specifically two groups to view his speech, the international community and the American people. President Obama clearly wanted both of these groups to know that this terrorist group has ambitions to expand across the Middle-East.


By using ISIL instead of ISIS, President Obama reassured allies (ie Israel and Jordan) that it would not stand for the terrorist group’s actions and would disband them through the use of military force, even before this problem would reach their respective borders. As for the American people, by referring to the terrorist group’s expansionist ambitions, President Obama was making the case in which military action in the Middle-East would have to be necessary to quell their threat. After two elongated wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, he would need to bring a strong case to the American public for military intervention. That strong case would be the expansion of ISIL.


For a US President – or any world leader really – it’s always vital to frame the issue on which your actions stand. Calling this particular terrorist group ISIL would be doing just that, by referencing the danger of a terrorist group that could expand outside the current conflict areas if nothing is done to stop them.


So what’s in a name?


When it comes to President Obama calling a terrorist group ISIL instead of ISIS. Quite a bit.



(Photo Credit: Associated Press, The Guardian)

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  1. Pingback: Talking Points: President Obama’s G-20 Press Conference (On ISIS and Syrian Refugees) | The Post Turtle

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