by Niamh Kirk
News organisations have adopted different positions for describing ISIS/Islamic State/ISIL/Daesh. While some call it simply ISIS, the public service broadcasters in Ireland, RTE and the UK’s BBC have chosen to call it the ‘so-called Islamic State’. So what is in a name?
The core idea behind describing it as ‘so-called’ lies in the argument that it is not practising Islam and it is not a state. To call it the Islamic State would be an insult to those who practice Islam and imply undue credibility to it as being a ‘State’. Both true. And a reasonable argument for news organisation to take.
Some have further argued the semantics of the term. Islamic State might be a correct proper noun but it is not a correct adjective. But this them means there are subjective choices being made. This new development creates some problems when you extend it to the broader context. The issue is more an ideological one, but the logic is not consistent across all terror groups.
The IRA or Irish Republican Army is also a proper noun, but not an accurate description in that it is not an actual brigade in the Irish army and many of its members are from Ireland, Northern Ireland and the UK too I expect. It could be argued that the IRA are historic, only there are still cases of arms smuggling taking place and a special criminal court to deal with it.
ISIS is an established extremist terrorist group and the term ‘Islamic State’ is one of their self-elected titles. And in this regard, ‘Islamic State’ is a proper noun. The Washington Post have a rule of thumb and it applies to all groups, they use the self-elected term and they are happy to use ISIS or Islamic State.
Does saying ‘Islamic State’ or ‘so-called Islamic State’ change what the audience will understand of the report? No, and yes. No in the sense that we still know exactly what RTE are talking about, whether they choose ISIS or IS, so-called or not. We understand what organisation was responsible for the bombing, killing, brutality etc.
But yes, in that it reminds us that it is neither Islamic by the normal definitions as articulated by the majority who practice Islam nor is it a State.
Does it diminish the credibility of the group as a threat? This is subjective.
The BBC uses the prefix to diminish the credibility of the organisation. They used to use IS, and only started to use ‘so called’ after a compromise with the Government when David Cameron tried to get them to stop using the term ‘Islamic State’ altogether.
By the logic being applied to IS, the IRA, Provisional, Real and Continuity IRA all warrant the ‘so-called’ prefix too. They are not Irish by the normal values of those who identify as such. I wonder if BBC or RTE will extend their logic, and apply it the IRA?