ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –The spate of worldwide attacks attributed to the terrorist group al-Dawlah al-Islamīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām in recent days has sent ripples of shock and fear in their wake: the downing of a Russian passenger plane leaving Egypt, suicide bombings in Beirut, and the Parisian attacks which topped the trifecta with a bloody bow. The fact that these attacks all took place outside of war-torn Syria and neighboring Iraq led to rampant speculation that the terrorists were concealing themselves in the massive crush of refugees fleeing those areas, and reports confirm that one of the Paris attackers did possess a Syrian refugee passport. While US elected officials and presidential candidates reacted with plans to stop accepting refugees or even start labeling Muslims already in this country, one anonymous person took matters into their own hands, tossing a brick through the sign of Isis Books & Gifts.
The post clearly resonated with members of the many polytheist and Pagan communities, giving them once again an opportunity to express their frustration over the most widespread acronym used for this hate group, a shortening of “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.” Karen Harrison, one of the store’s owners, carefully spells out the name when she uses it: “I-S-I-S.” She takes pains to avoid any of the confusion that has become commonplace for her and her husband, Jeff. She said:
Since [events] in Middle East, people who don’t know their history or mythology have apparently gotten confused, and think that we may be a terrorist gift shop — but, we’re not.
Just what to call this jihadist group is complicated by issues of translation, religion, and politics. Founded in 1999 as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (“The Organization of Monotheism and Jihad”), the group’s founder swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden. And, in 2004, he changed the name to Tanẓīm Qāʻidat al-Jihād fī Bilād al-Rāfidayn (“The Organization of Jihad’s Base in Mesopotamia”), which became more commonly known as “al-Qaeda in Iraq.”
The group changed its name to I-S-I-S, or ad-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī-l-ʻIrāq wa-sh-Shām, on April 8, 2013, which is alternately translated as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or Iraq and Levant (ISIL). Then, on June 29, 2014 came the announcement that the group’s leaders were renaming it ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah, or the Islamic State, and declaring a worldwide caliphate. Referring to these terrorists as a “state” is seen in some quarters as lending it legitimacy. It is particularly problematic for other devotees of Islam, because the name implies a religious authority that is a direct successor to the prophet Muhammad. Neither mainstream Muslim groups nor the United Nations accept that designation and, since the Paris attacks in particular, several national governments (including those of France and the United States) have shifted to using the name “Daesh” for this group.
That name “Daesh” is a translated acronym that has been used by Arabic speakers for some time. It is also an entendre that can be taken to mean “one who sows discord” or “one who crushes something underfoot.” The name is apparently so disliked by members of the group itself that they have cut out the tongues of some who have used it in territory the group controls. It has not, however, gained widespread acceptance in mainstream media. Representatives have largely ignored concerns over acknowledging the group as a state as well as any pleas made for such a wording change, such as the one put out by the Fellowship of Isis last year.
. . . we believe the audience is familiar enough with that group to allow us to say ‘ISIS’ on first reference.
Until recently, NPR referred to that group as the “self-declared Islamic State” on first reference. Now, the practice has morphed into preceding any quote which uses “ISIL” or “Daesh” with an explanation that these are alternative names for the group, not the preferred one.
Neither official government designations, nor the desires of devotees of the goddess, seem to be able to budge media outlets, of which NPR is but one example. The Wild Hunt reached out to members of the Fellowship of Isis to find out how the use of this term has impacted their lives.
The only real confusion I experienced was in a dubious email, asking for more information about FOI in a way that made me wonder about the writer’s intent. I simply replied that we are a spiritual group following the path of the divine feminine in all Her forms and directed the person to the main FOI website.
I . . . am very troubled that ISIL/Daesh is named as it is in the press. Daesh is a new term to me, and I hope it moves into general use. The horrifying, psychopathic practices of that group could not be farther from our principles of honoring life, the law of three (much like karma) and the overarching principle of harming none. — name withheld
Denise Wong, Iseum of Green Fire, Florida said:
The only thing I can report is my emotional pain and worry from that terrorist organization being referred to by the name ISIS. I think the word has come to be associated with cruelty and evil, which is certainly not what the goddess Isis is about. I have posted information a couple of times to try to point out and correct the error. Honestly, I doubt my efforts and the efforts of others in that respect will do much good; I think the harm is already done.
Isidora Forrest, author of Isis Magic and Offering to Isis, and blogger at Isiopolis said:
While you may be aware that the Goddess’ Egyptian name is Iset (you’ll also see Aset and Auset), I most often use the Hellenized/Anglicized version simply because that’s the name by which most people in the world would know Her. This is, of course, the version of Her name that is being so abused right now. Isiopolis has had a huge upswing in visitors who came to the blog when they searched for “what does Isis mean?” That has been ongoing since “ISIS” came into the news. I do see large spikes in visitors to the blog whenever one of Daesh’s many atrocities makes the news. The recent Paris murders sent thousands of people to the blog each day for several days because I had a post called “Isis & the French Connection.” Unfortunately, a lot of those visitors were coming from a network of conspiracy sites that include Jews, Jesuits, and racial groups—along with various politicians and corporations—among the evil world conspirators. To stop any new linking and break existing links, I took that post down, but intend to retitle and repost it later. I have also been proselytized by a well-meaning Muslim or three.
I must admit that when we first began hearing about Daesh by the ISIS acronym, it made me almost literally sick to my stomach every time it was mentioned. I have since become hardened against it, but oh would I welcome the switch to Daesh.
For her part, Harrison is glad that the recent damage to her bookstore has gained so much attention, but she and her husband are generally taking the vandalism in stride. She said that they have experienced some anti-Pagan sentiment since opening in 1980 — most notably, someone tried to burn the place down in 1989 or ’90, not long after Connie Chung covered their shop in a not-so-flattering interview during the Satanic Panics of that time.
However, for the most part, actual vandalism has only been in the past couple of years. “We’ve had paint thrown on our sign, someone bashed in the glass front door, and the signs in our parking lot were torn up,” Harrison said, prior to the brick-throwing incident which went viral. Because these events were all under cover of darkness, she said, there’s no way to be certain that they are related to the terrorist group. But it seems a reasonable conjecture to her. “I’ll call the police only if we feel like we’re in danger, or if the damage is enough that the insurance company will actually kick something in,” she said.
As their damaged sign has been covered by numerous media outlets, including The New York Times, the Harrisons have been trying to raise awareness about the naming problem, as well as channel the groundswell of support toward charitable giving.
Harrison said that she has spoken with several people who have opted to change the name of their business in the wake of this issue, but that there are no plans to change the name of Isis Books & Gifts. Also, not everyone affected can so easily solve the problem; thousands of women the world over are named Isis as well. “Should they change their name?” Harrison asked. “Just a couple of years ago it was the name of a sacred goddess, and for 3500 years before that.”
The recent push to view the acronym I-S-I-S as offensive to Muslims may eventually bring the change that a small number of Isis worshippers have unsuccessfully lobbied for, but it’s likely that such change will still happen as quickly as any of those people might hope.