British PM to Broadcaster: Don’t Call Islamic State ‘Islamic State’

By Patrick Goodenough | June 30, 2015 | 4:08 AM EDT

Islamic State in Iraq and Syria fighters. (Screenshot: ISIS propaganda video)

( – British Prime Minister David Cameron took issue Monday with Britain’s public broadcaster’s use of the term “Islamic State” in reference to the terrorist group, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

During a BBC Radio 4 interview days after an ISIS-claimed terror attack on a Tunisian beach hotel cost the lives of at least 38 people, most of them British tourists, Cameron was asked whether he regarded “Islamic State” as an existential threat.

“I wish the BBC would stop calling it ‘Islamic State’ because it is not an Islamic state,” he said.

“What it is is an appalling, barbarous regime. It is a perversion of the religion of Islam and, you know, many Muslims listening to this program will recoil every time they hear the words ‘Islamic State’ –”

Radio 4 presenter John Humphrys pointed out that that is the name used by the group itself, but said he supposed the BBC could use the term “so-called” in front of the name.

“ So-called’ or ISIL is better,” Cameron said, using another acronym for the jihadist group.

“But it is an existential threat,” the prime minister continued, “because what’s happening here is the perversion of a great religion, and the creation of this poisonous death cult, that is seducing too many young minds, in Europe, in America, in the Middle East and elsewhere.”

“And this is, I think, going to be the struggle of our generation. We have to fight it with everything that we can.”

The BBC said in a statement, quoted by the Guardian: “No-one listening to our reporting could be in any doubt what kind of organization this is. We call the group by the name it uses itself, and regularly review our approach. We also use additional descriptions to help make it clear we are referring to the group as they refer to themselves, such as ‘so-called Islamic State.’”

The terrorist group which has declared a “caliphate” across parts of Syria and Iraq under its control calls itself al-Dawlah al-Islamiyah, Arabic for Islamic State.

Media organizations around the world variously call it Islamic State, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, sometimes just ISIS or just ISIL, and sometimes Da’esh, an acronym for al-Dawlah al-Islamiyah fil-Iraq wa ash-Sham.

Some use modifiers like “so-called,” “self-proclaimed” or “the group that calls itself” before naming it.

Obama administration officials frequently dispute that the group has anything to do with Islam. President Obama and the White House most often refer to it as ISIL, while Secretary of State John Kerry favors Da’esh.

Last September several British Muslim wrote a letter to Cameron urging the use of the name “Un-Islamic State.”

And a top Sunni authority in Egypt launched a campaign urging media outlets to abandon all names for the group that include the word “Islamic,” in favor of “al-Qaeda separatists in Iraq and Syria” or QSIS.  (Al-Qaeda in Iraq was a precursor to ISIS, whose leader had a fallout with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in 2013.)

Last Friday’s deadly attack by a gunman in Tunisia occurred on the same day as a suicide bomber killed 27 people and wounded more than 200 more in a mosque in Kuwait, and an extremist in France is suspected of having beheaded his employer and crashed a truck into a U.S.-owned chemical factory.

Earlier an ISIS leader issued an audio message online calling for terror attacks everywhere during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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