The November 2016 announcement by the Union Government to henceforth change the nomenclature of the “Islamic State” (IS) to “Daish” in all its official communications concerning the global terrorist organisation is an appropriate move.1 Banned in 2015 under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act,2 the terror outfit has until now been referred to in official records by its various existing nomenclatures including Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Caliphate and Daish. Reportedly, the Union Home Ministry is likely to send instructions to the effect that only the name 'Daish' is to be used in all official communications while referring to the group. Measures are under consideration for circulating an advisory on these lines to all state governments. The rationale behind this step is that the nomenclature ‘Islamic State’ tantamounts to acknowledging the existence of the terrorist organization as a legitimate state. The initiative to reconsider the nomenclature is a prudent decision that would not only help in delegitimizing the IS ideology for potential Indian recruits but also prevent or at least lessen the number of potential recruits from India.
The goal of the Daish is to establish a state that does not recognize any international boundaries. In July 2014, the group proclaimed its ambition to establish a Caliphate across Asia, Africa and Europe. It released a map identifying several countries in the Middle East, North Africa and large areas of South Asia including India as potential territories of such an entity. As part of its strategy, the Daish has established terrorist modules to lure recruits. Recruits from the US, Canada, Europe, South Africa, Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Malaysia have surged the group’s ranks in recent years.
In spite of the heavy losses in terms of territory and recruits in recent months, the Daish’s influence remains far from diminished. In India, the National Investigation Agency, entrusted with the job of investigating several cases relating to people joining the Daish, has successfully busted several terror modules operating including in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.3 However, it still remains necessary to maintain vigilance and craft a strategy that reduces the group’s attractiveness and influence. One possible way of doing this is to strip the Daish of its self-proclaimed esteem that it is the sole representative of Muslims worldwide. Investigations have revealed that the group’s handlers of Indian origin are actively “seeking to establish Caliphate in India with allegiance to the ISIS/ISIL” and “recruit Muslim youths to work for the ISIS.”4 During investigations, the accused have provided detailed accounts of how they “had used numerous social networking platforms for waging jihad by violent means to attract the attention of likeminded persons and motivate vulnerable youngsters to commit terrorist acts to strike terror in the minds of the people by joining a banned international terrorist organisation, ISIS, with an intent to threaten the Unity, Integrity, Security and Sovereignty of India.”5 The IS is using its propaganda tool to convince its targets that it is the sole successor of the original seventh-century Islamic State. By that “virtue”, it seeks to bring back a version of the Sharia law (far more radical than the prevalent Islamic legal code) and calls upon Muslims around the world to swear their loyalty to the group. For instance, Md. Ataullah Rehman, @ Ghouse, aged 32, a resident of Hyderabad arrested for his key role in the Hyderabad conspiracy case of July 2016, revealed his involvement in radicalising the group members and administering to them the Bayáh – oath of allegiance to the Khalifa-Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi.6 Recruits are also put through a “detailed course in Shariya followed by combat training.”7 Given all this, it is necessary to tear of the veil of virtue that the IS has covered itself with.
Daish was initially named as ISIL or ISIS, referring to the Levant and Syria as the region over which its territory spread from southern Turkey through Syria to Egypt. Reportedly, in June 2014, with territories under its control expanding, the ISIS/ISIL renamed itself as the Islamic State, portending its ambitions to establish a Caliphate that extends beyond the Middle East and proclaiming its desire to represent all Muslims worldwide. The IS released maps marking territories extending from Spain to China including North Africa to be seized by 2020 as part of a successful propaganda campaign.8
In order to curb this ominous development, there has been a global effort on for some time now to coin a fourth name for the group, namely, Daish.9 While military operations are already in full swing against the group in Iraq and Syria, the additional step of a changed nomenclature to de-legitimize it is an important initiative to counter the group’s propaganda and restrain it spread. The IS considers the nomenclature “Daish” as insulting and thus abhors it.10 The reasons for this is evident from the fact that the word Daish is an acronym of al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham, which, transliterated in Arabic, stands for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Phonetically, the word Daish sounds more like Daes, which in Arabic implies “a group of hypocrites who impose their will on others.” It also refers to people who propagate disharmony and chaos. Such a group is dogmatic and seeks to impose its will by subjugating all “nonconformists”. This is precisely the agenda of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and IS that seek to impose their will upon their targets through “coercion, provocation, attrition, intimidation, spoiling, and outbidding.”11 The IS thus hates the nomenclature of Daish given these negative connotations that significantly impair its self-proclaimed prerogative of re-establishing the Caliphate and be the sole representative of all Muslims. Given, however, the offensive connotation associated with the use of the word “Daish”, it provides an excellent step to defame the terrorist group not only in India but also worldwide. It also signifies India’s commitment to extend its support to strengthen global forces in the fight against the Daish.
Here, it is worth noting that many leaders and countries are seeking to delegitimise the IS by beginning to refer to it as Daish. In December 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron while addressing the British Parliament emphasized that it was “important” to refer to ISIL, ISIS or IS as ‘Daesh’. Following his announcement, a British government Twitter handle “UK Against ISIL” was changed to “UK Against Daesh”. A month earlier, President Francois Hollande termed the Paris attacks as “an act of war… by Daesh against France”. In January 2015, former Australian Premier Tony Abbott announced that Daesh would be the designated name for IS. At the G20 Summit in Turkey just after the Paris attacks, President Barack Obama condemned the activities of Daesh. In an August 2016 press conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described Canada’s mission in Iraq as part of the “coalition against Daesh.”
The Indian government’s decision to refer to the IS as Daish needs to be viewed as a part of this larger trend. Alongside the decision on the nomenclature to be used for describing the IS, the government must also take steps to convey the message that there is nothing virtuous about the dreaded terror outfit and that its objective is to spread instability in the country. And to counter the Daish propaganda, the authorities should take necessary measures to educate the vulnerable demographic about the Daish being a dangerous terror group that seeks to impose an insidious influence upon innocent minds. Further, in the struggle against the Daish, the government should seek the active support of all responsible segments like Muslim political leaders and religious leaders. Particularly important in this regard is local religious leaders holding regular sermons to educate the youth that the actions of the Daish are against the basic tenets of Islam12 and that there is nothing Koranic about its ideology. The Daish’s actions of beheadings, mindless killings, torture, and slavery are against civilization. In this regard, it is worth nothing that, in September 2015, the Islamic seminary of Sunni Muslims, Darul Uloom, issued a fatwa against the Daish calling its activities as “anti-Islam”.13 This important ideological step condemned the killing of any innocent person and exhorted Indian Muslim youth not to get influenced by the deceitful propaganda of the Daish.
At a broader conceptual level, in the struggle against international terrorism and radicalization, terms like jihad and jihadists with reference to terrorists needs to be discontinued. The current discourse on international terrorism uses these concepts interchangeably with terrorists and terrorism. However, terrorists pursuing an atavistic agenda based upon a lethal modus operandi that involves the brutal killing of common people are not performing jihad. They only seek to legitimize their vile acts in the name of Islam and make it appealing to people. Terrorists must not be conferred the nomenclature jihadists, which only bestows upon them a legitimacy that they do not deserve.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.