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We here at OJB have not been able to devote adequate attention to either the crisis in Ferguson or the crisis in Syria and Iraq, but we hope to change that. Today we’ll start with the Middle East rather than the Midwest. But first there’s a matter of nomenclature.
This particular story was inspired by a Facebook post that we’ll cover in part 2 — but part 1 is inspired by thinking how to solve the problem of ISIS having the name of Isis, an Egyptian deity whose positive connotations have been appropriated by groups from all-female rock bands to comic book and science fiction creators seeking to pique the interest of girls, woman, and relatively evolved males.
“ISIS” is a poor choice of translation of their name for much the same reason (although admittedly to a lesser degree) that “MARY” would be a very poor choice of translation the name for a terrorist group called the “Mauritanian Army of Rejected Youth” if there was any way to translate it from Fula without insulting a billion or so Christians. (And there surely would be.) So we’re laying down some new rules.
1. We’re going to stop calling them “ISIS” — and we’re NOT calling them “Islamic State”
Commentators around the world have complained about the translation that English-speaking news outlets have been using for the terrorists attempting to set up a caliphate (Islamic State) in Syria and parts of Iraq.
Even ISIS itself seems to represent that its being tied in the public mind to a beauteous and powerful fictional female deity. Its solution has been to rename itself, this past week, to simply “The Islamic State.” (Or it may be just “Islamic State” — which seems like it would be the name of a Muslim land grant university.) This is not something that OJB chooses to respect — and OJB feels that other journalistic outlets should follow suit.
Now I am a political candidate so I’m not supposed to talk the way I’m about you, but I beg your forgiveness for momentarily setting down my gentility to present some reasons why:
A. TEN REASONS WHY OJB WILL NOT CALL THE
TERRORISTS FORMERLY KNOWN AS “ISIS” BY
THEIR PREFERRED NEW NAME “ISLAMIC STATE”:
- Fuck them.
- Seriously — fuck them!
- The do not get to call themselves “The Islamic State.”
- They are not a “state.” They are a temporarily successful insurgent group.
- They are in many ways anathema to Islam and its professed values.
- They sure don’t get to call themselves “THE” Islamic State using the definite article. (They’re not the Who claiming to be “the only band that matters.”)
- Use of the generic term for them insults all other Islamic states. This is a bad diplomacy.
- Because calling them “Islamic State” is what they want — and fuck them.
- It’s not going to work anyway, because people are still calling them ISIS, partly out of inertia and partly because “Islamic State” seems so generic. You don’t get people to stop using a term without substituting in something else that’s better — and “Islamic State” is not better.
- In conclusion: fuck them. Q.E.D. Request denied.
B. TWO REASONS (ONE LONG, COMPOUND AND INTRICATE)
WHY WE ALSO WILL NOT CONTINUE CALLING THEM “ISIS”:
The term that has been used until now, ISIS (for the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”), suffers from two problems:
(1) “Iraq” as we know it may not exist in one piece for much longer (aka “it’s looking like Joe Biden was right”), so there’s a good chance that part of the acronym will no longer make sense in the long term.
(2) “Isis,” once again, was initially the name for the sweet and powerful and awesome Egyptian goddess of domesticity (among many other wonderful things), which evokes exactly the wrong reaction in those who hear it. (Many people like “Isis” the same way that they like “Thor” or “Aphrodite” or “Mercury.” It’s cultural, not necessarily reflecting one’s religious beliefs.) BUT: while Vern and I (actually I’m not positive about Vern) do not worship ancient pagan gods and goddesses, plenty of people profess that they do so — and respect for religion means that you don’t spit on other people’s professed choice of deities. (I’ll explain the exception for Scientology and some others at some other time.)
Luckily, there’s one solution to both problems.
C. ONE MAP THAT SHOWS US THE WAY TO A SOLUTION:
Have a look at this map.
Roughly speaking, northern Iraq (which is mostly Sunni and Kurdish) corresponds to the region of Assyria, while southern Iraq corresponds to the region of Babylonia (which, like neighboring Iran/Persia, is largely Shi’ite.) Unlike the term “Iraq” itself, these regions are firmly embedded in history and they aren’t going to go away. The territories that TTGFKA ISIS claims for its Sunni “base” — as opposed to areas that it intends to take and rule by conquest — are pretty much Assyrian and Syrian.
So: a reasonable translation from the Arabic language of the group’s name could be “Islamic State of Assyria and Syria” — which is actually more accurate, as well as teaching Americans a little bit of Western Asian history, which is not an opportunity to be overlooked.
“ISAS” is a very bad acronym, though — that’s important because we want people to ADOPT ITS USE — because it reads as “IS AS,” a phrase that, like “ON THE” and “AFTER A,” does not stand well alone. (In fact, it is well suited to being included between “Yo Mama” and a bunch of “X as a Y” comparisons — something that we need less of in foreign diplomacy.) So what can we do?
Hey, let’s switch the last two letters — which in fact more accurately represents the origins of the group in Syria and its later incursion into Assyria! This yields a perfectly serviceable acronym: “ISSA.” (Switching the letters was attempted before, but “ISSI” sounds no more fearsome than “ISIS,” as it evokes “Sissy,” “Missy,” “Prissy,” “Hissy,” and other similar words that don’t sound terroristic.) “ISSA,” though, sounds mean — in fact, it sounds like a real PISSA!
D. YOU THINK THAT WE’RE JUST BEING CHEEKY HERE.
BUT WE’RE NOT. HERE ARE SEVERAL REASONS WHY.
OJB can anticipate the concern that some of you in our main readership base may have: Is using this superior acronym unfair to Rep. Darrell Issa? Some answers:
- Seriously? You’re asking that SERIOUSLY?
- Who cares? Is Issa about to lose his election if his name matches that of a terrorist group?
- More people worship Isis than worship Issa anyway.
- More seriously, to avoid confusion “Issa” won’t be in ALL-CAPS except in headlines, and where we will try to precede it with “REP.” or “PATHOLOGICAL LIAR” or “CONVICTED CAR THIEF.”
- Yes, if it matters, it is a bit unfair — and yes, it would have been better if the terrorist group’s name could have been translated into something with the acronym ROHRABACHER or MCCAIN.
- Anyway, Issa himself thinks that ISIS is now the greatest threat to the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East, so he should be willing to make some personal sacrifices. And, let’s bear in mind, giving them a name like this can only help to discredit them.
- OK, seriously seriously: your author’s trying to figure out a puzzle to the “renaming ISIS” problem came first — and followed pretty much the progression above: keying in on “Assyria” and coming up with ISAS, then realizing the letters could and should be reversed, then cracking up laughing, aggravating his hernia, and having to lie down for a while. So some real pain went into this decision and you should respect that.
So, ISSA it is! If the terrorists are insulted by that comparison, they should have thought through the dangers before they got into the terrorism business.
Let’s explore that fifth point a little more in Part 2.
2. This is John McCain Palling Around with ISIS Terrorists in 2013
Hold onto your hats:
Let’s go over some ancient history: the rebellion against Syrian President Bashir al-Assad that turned into the Syrian Civil War, mostly from 2012 through the first half of this year.
The Syrian Civil War is really complicated, so long as you are not Sen. John McCain or anyone paid to pamper and promote him. If you click on that link and look at the rightmost column, you will find a bewildering list of commanders in the war, many various organizations from each sides, far more than one finds in most wars. The rightmost column in the list of commanders contains only one name: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who holds himself out to be the Caliph of the new Islamic state that what OJB will call ISSA is trying to establish.
The Assad family has been a pretty brutal dynasty, including against its own people, although Hafez al-Assad was a major motive force behind such brutality and Bashir al-Assad is suspected by some to be largely a figurehead held into place by institutional pressure. Anyway, human rights activists started pushing back against Assad’s government in late 2011, and starting about a year or so great debate was eruption about whether to support them, both diplomatically and with material.
McCain, of course, wanted to support them by sending them rockets and other munitions — a “Putin in Ukraine” sort of move that McCain would be the first to criticize if it came from someone wearing a different colored jersey. Human rights activists who were rooting for the rebels, who wanted to give them diplomatic support and protection, had some qualms about giving them rockets and such for reasons that we should not even have to explain after what has happened in Ukraine. But apparently McCain saw no downside — even after those human rights activists were set upon and lost ground to aggressive terrorists then called ISIS. And so he went there, to taunt Obama for being weak. And he took some pictures that are now being used to promote the interests of ISIS/IS/ISSA, who proudly show off their patronage to the media.
I do have to admit that the provenance of that picture is in doubt. Here’s what Wonkette has to say:
Back in May 2013, Forever Warmonger John McCain was really excited about the prospects of arming the Syrian moderates who were fighting to free that country from the iron grip of Bashar al-Assad. He even sneaked into the country to meet with the head of the Free Syrian Army, Gen. Salim Idris, the fellow in the striped shirt there (Idris was ousted in February of this year).
Only one small problem with the little photo-op: In addition to Idris, some of the other guys in the pic are apparently members of a slightly less “moderate” group: ISIS, the guys who are currently bringing down Iraq, and the photo is reportedly being circulated by ISIS as proof of their legitimacy. Oops.
The U.S. never did give advanced weapons to the Free Syrian Army rebels (aka “the good guys”), out of concern that they might fall into the wrong hands. This turned out to be a smart idea, because what weapons the FSA did get have largely ended up in the hands of ISSA. And do you know who helped arrange that?
Let’s go to this story from the Atlantic, dated two months ago. For those of you who can’t click links:
“Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar,” John McCain told CNN’s Candy Crowley in January 2014. “Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar, and for our Qatari friends,” the senator said once again a month later, at the Munich Security Conference.
McCain was praising Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then the head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services and a former ambassador to the United States, for supporting forces fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham had previously met with Bandar to encourage the Saudis to arm Syrian rebel forces.
THOSE are the weapons that are now being used to set up an ersatz “caliphate” in Assyria. B-b-but, how?
The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the “moderate” armed opposition in the country, receives a lot of attention. But two of the most successful factions fighting Assad’s forces are Islamist extremist groups: Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the latter of which is now amassing territory in Iraq and threatening to further destabilize the entire region. And that success is in part due to the support they have received from two Persian Gulf countries: Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Except that Qatar says that they had nothing to do with ISIS/ISSA. A senior Qatari official is quoted saying that “ISIS has been a Saudi project.”
ISIS, in fact, may have been a major part of [former Saudi Intelligence Chief and U.S. Ambassador Prince Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s] covert-ops strategy in Syria. The Saudi government, for its part, has denied allegations, including claims made by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, that it has directly supported ISIS. But there are also signs that the kingdom recently shifted its assistance—whether direct or indirect—away from extremist factions in Syria and toward more moderate opposition groups.
So when you see John McCain complaining about ISIS/ISSA, just remember: as much or more as anyone other U.S. political figure, he’s the one who made this happen.