The controversy over the naming rights to 'Islamic State' has been much ado about nothing from the start. The Prime Minister began to refer to Islamic State by its Arabic acronym 'Da'ish' from the beginning of the year, saying that he didn't like 'Islamic State' or 'ISIS' because it was a 'perversion of religion'. The French foreign minister has urged media outlets to do the same, while the British parliament debated the lexicon of Islamic terrorist groups last week. Also last week, the BBC quite sensibly resisted a push by some British MPs to change its use of the term Islamic State to Da'ish.
Those who advocate using Da'ish instead of Islamic State say the group is neither Islamic nor a state, and they argue that the name perverts the name of Islam. But these arguments open a can of nomenclature worms. If it is perverting religion to refer to Islamic State as Islamic, then what of the myriad other armed Islamist groups who hijack Islam and God to reinforce their religious credentials for power?
How should politicians refer to Hizbullah (Party of God), for instance? Isn't it also a perversion of religion to think that God would be happy for an Australian to blow up a tourist bus in Bulgaria in his name? Some Sunni Islamists in the region, including Turkey's justice minister, have demanded that Hizbullah change its name to Hizb al-Shaytan (Party of Satan), but we are yet to see the same demand from those who prefer Dai'sh over Islamic State.
And how to describe the recent execution of 18 Islamic State members by Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam)? Is a group calling itself the Army of Islam not perverting religion, just as Islamic State is?
This must surely provide a conundrum for the Government's intelligence briefers – how do they inform the PM that Dai'sh members have been killed by a group calling itself the Army of Islam? Perhaps they could seek guidance from the PM's office as to whether they have a term for Jaysh al-Islam which neither connotes they are Islamic nor supports their claim to be an army?
And what about the Islamic Front, or any group that uses terms such as mujahideen (those engaged in jihad), muhajiroon (referring to those who followed Muhammad on his move from Mecca to medina) or ansar (referring to Mouhammad's earliest Medinan supporters). All of these have specific Islamic religious connotations that attempt to hijack religious terminology to justify killing others.
We can't stop groups calling themselves what they want to be called. Getting into detailed discussion about it is largely a waste of time.
I travel to the region frequently and the interlocutors I speak to variously refer to the group as ISIS, IS, Islamic State or Da'ish (ISIL appears to have lost currency for some unknown reason). If people in the region are relatively sanguine about the lexicon of Islamist terrorist groups, why are we in the West so concerned?