Sunday 5 October 2014

Introducing S-CIS

After ISIL, ISIS and IS, the new acronym for the murderous group carrying about barbarities in Syria and Iraq now appears to be S-CIS. 

I've learned this from listening to and watching the BBC this weekend where most presenters (from William Crawley to Andrew Marr) have been using the phrased "the So-Called Islamic State" to refer to the organisation. They've been using it so consistently that a directive must surely have gone out from the top of the BBC settling on that particular form of words. 

Radio 4's Sunday began by immediately broadcasting a denunciation of  the S-CIS from a 'Muslim leader' in Manchester. He described them as "an insult to Islam", "a group who do not represent Islam at all". 

Then the Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, stressed the unity of the faith communities in response to Alan Henning's murder. He said that Muslims in the area are united in their abhorrence of the act, though you can always find a few exceptions (he said), and told a concerned William Crawley that there have been no signs of tension between Muslims and Christians either. 

The programme closed with a discussion between the programme's M.E. expert, Prof. Fawaz Gerges, and Guardian writer Dr Giles Fraser. Giles Fraser said that bombing is "not an appropriate response" and "morally problematic". Prof. Gerges agreed that the West has the wrong approach, believing our "top-down approach" has been a mistake. Giles Fraser doesn't think theology has much to do with it, preferring to see it as a political conflict - "a proxy war" between Saudi and Iran. He says that the they are "not people inspired by theology" rather "inspired by desperation...political desperation ". For Prof. Gerges the S-CIS are "manifestations of greater challenges facing the Middle East" - namely poverty, unemployment, blockage in the political systems and fragile institutions. He calls them "a social epidemic" in "a socially-devastated area", akin to Europe after WWII. He seems to want a Marshall Plan for the region. Giles Fraser thinks that a good idea, and agreed with Fawaz Gerges that abject poverty provides a breeding ground for radical Islamism and terrorism

So, the message that almost all British Muslims are dead against Islamic State the So-Called Islamic State and that the So-Called Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam came through loud and clear - as did the message that Western actions - specifically bombing - are misguided and/or far from sufficient. [Andrew Marr also said that "But, of course, most Muslims are also disgusted by what's happened" during his paper review this morning].

Talking of which, the rightness of talking to terrorists was a key theme on Thursday's Today [one and a half hours in].

We heard from a Pakistani journalist who had been involved in talks with the Pakistan Taliban, and (naturally) approved of them. He was followed by a second interview with someone who agreed with talking to terrorists, including Islamic State (when they're ready to talk), namely Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's former aide. He believes all governments do talk to terrorists and should talk to terrorists, whether they be the IRA, Hamas, the Taliban or IS. No terrorists are so beyond the pale that they cannot and should not be talked too, he says - and, it has to be said, he didn't face a great deal of opposition from his interviewer, James Naughtie; in fact, quite the reverse. The morality and practicality of such a controversial position needed either an opposing view or more challenging questions. 

This morning's Broadcasting House focused on Muslim reaction to events in Syria.

First came an interview with a fighter from the Free Syrian Army who knew Alan Henning, and who paid tribute to him as a friend to the people of Syria, then Paddy O'Connell talked to the mother of Ibrahim Kamara, the 19-year-old from Brighton killed in Syria whilst fighting with al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists. Among many other things, Khadijah Kamara wants answers from the British government about how her son had been allowed to fly to Syria using another of her sons' passport. Having come to our country from Sierra Leone, she said that she didn't feel integrated into the UK and that she had faced lots of racism here. She dodged Paddy O'Connell's question about whether she liked living in the UK. Paddy said that some people would wonder if she was in some way to blame for her son feeling the urge to go to Syria. She said she had done all she could. 

Some people will have felt queasy about giving a platform to the mother of a terrorist - a woman who, generally, came across as a sympathetic figure. Others, especially 'liberal-minded' people on Twitter, seem to have felt queasy for another reason, objecting to Paddy's "brutal" tone, accusing him of displaying "the empathy of a pavement" towards a mother whose son had just keen killed. They particularly objected to him telling her how her son is supposed to have died after she said she didn't know. It's not an interview I think they should have broadcast at this time, however many insights it might have given us into the family background of an al-Qaeda terrorist. 

These are just snapshots of the BBC's coverage in recent days. Whether they are entirely typical I cannot say.


  1. I would like to speak in favour of the So Called Islamic State label although I personally use Self Declared Islamic State.

    Firstly, it ends confusion about labels. Are they ISIL or ISIL or IS? Perhaps they are three different organisations? Perhaps they are branches of the same organisation? How do we distinguish between Islamic State, now chopping off heads in Iraq and Syria and Islamic states as Saudi Arabia and Iran (also chopping off heads)?

    Secondly. just because a group uses a name doesn't mean we have to use it. I refuse to use State of Palestine just because they have rebadged. The comparison is warranted. Simply repeating Islamic State or State of Palestine over and over reinforces the idea that they are actually a state with sovereignty. Or even at a minimum that they fulfill the basic requirements of a state.

    Thirdly, the name Islamic State is naturally abbreviated to IS which plays havoc with spelling and grammar checkers reading it as is.

    1. Fair points, all of them. It looks as if the BBC has been thinking along similar lines.

      That makes sense for a media organisation seeking to avoid confusion.

  2. "So Called" is an infantile, playground label, not a serious description to be used by a news organisation.

    The BBC never said "so called" Islamic Jihad or "so called" Hamas or "so called" Islamic Republic of Iran.

    If they really think the Islamic State is not Islamic or does not have the attributes of a state they need to explain. In what ways do the actions of the Islamic State differ from those of the religion's founder, Mohammed? In what way is it not a state with its own army, its own borders, its own system of taxation ,its own laws and judiciary, its own passports and so on?

    Dan Read


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