Friday, November 20, 2015

November 20, 2105--ISIS v.ISIL

Most of the right-wing radio talk-show hosts I monitor in the middle of the night are so frustrated, almost  speechless, so descended into sputtering about what is going on in France and the Middle East that a recent focus of their anger and impotence is calling Barack Obama to task, actually savaging him,  for his stubborn insistence on calling the Jihadist terrorists ISIL while most of the rest of us "ordinary folks" refer to them as ISIS.

Small differences in ordinary circumstances but in the current inflamed state of things yet another opportunity to rant and fulminate.

ISIS gained its name as the Iraqi branch of al Qaeda after it invaded Syria in 2013. ISIS is the acronym for "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria" or "Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham," which is the original Arabic name for the caliphate in the region.

ISIL stands for "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant." A much larger region that stretches to the eastern shore of the Mediterranean and includes present day Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan. The Obama administration prefers ISIL claiming it is a better translation for al-Sham.

A few things--

By thinking about the regional terrorists as active in all of the Levant, rather than "just" Syria and Iraq, isn't Obama granting them more geographic girth and influence than thinking about them as more contained?

Also, Levant etymologically and historically is a French construct. From the Middle French lever, literally "to rise," meaning, from a literal European perspective, facing east to the Orient where the sun rises. Couple this with the traditional European-defined lands of the "Orient," also of French origin, from the Old French oriri, "to rise," and the Middle Eastern region becomes the Orient, which in the Near East includes the Levant and those who study it "orientalists." None of these any longer politically correct.

Except perhaps, with deep irony, to Barack Obama who should know better.

What does President Obama's surprisingly Eurocentric insistence on ISIL suggest?

Nothing good. It seemingly means that to him ISIL is even more widespread in its influence than it currently, fortunately, is. And by viewing them as ISIL, cedes to them the possibility that over time, unthwarted, they will seize all the lands of the Levant.

The Eurocentrism is also surprising and disappointing for a president who came into office pledging that he would treat all of the world, especially the Islamic world, more equitably and less xenophobically than his predecessors.

Additionally, unreported in the posturing and demagogy on all sides is the fact that the Levant plus the current Iraq is the final playing field for all three religions of the Book--messianic Judaism, evangelical Christianity, and apocalyptical Islam--as they all, in their most extreme expression, await and look forward to the End Time when the world will end in a cataclysm.

Thus it is understandable that many, especially those on the right who hate and feel put down by Obama's dispassionate, patronizing professorial tone, would find his stubbornness, even fixation on ISIL maddening. Even if they know nothing about the Levant or connect any of this to eschatological matters.

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