ISIS v. ISIL: the definitive* answer

Why I decided to write this is beyond me, but if you’re interested (and why you would be is also beyond me, but whatever), please enjoy.

Arabic Word a Day

* DISCLAIMER: there is nothing in this piece that is definitive in any way, apart from the inclusion of some literal definitions of words.

I have resisted writing this for some reason. No, wait, now I remember why; because debating the semantics of the translation of a controversial Arab extremist groups name produces writing that is either trite or downright stupid. But there’s a learning opportunity in everything, and now that I’ve hopefully sucked everybody in with a clickbait-y headline, let’s look at the words that make up our new mortal* enemy’s Arabic name (الدولة الإسلامية or الدولة الإسلامية في العراق و الشام) for vocabulary purposes:

  • دَولة (dawlah): this is often translated as “state,” but that’s not the original meaning. The root, دول (D-W-L or D-U-L — و can sound like either u or w depending on the situation) actually means something like “taking turns” or “rotating,”…

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2 thoughts on “ISIS v. ISIL: the definitive* answer

  1. Brilliant! In my useless opinion, Hatay cries out to be part of Syria except that the modern state of Syria is the old Greater Syria from which all the desirable parts have been ripped away and gifted to someone else. The rump state of desert and mountain can barely feed itself in the best of times, making it especially vulnerable to the shocks and dislocations of a steadily warming planet.

    Some of us have a great deal of respect for experts, for people who actually understand what they are talking about, so I quite enjoyed that little stroll through the impenetrable thicket of Arabic.

  2. Geographically and historically there’s a pretty good argument for Hatay belonging to Syria. In antiquity Antioch was obviously considered part of “Syria” geographically. After the Arabs conquered the area in the 630s, it wasn’t until 1516 that Antakya/Hatay was again controlled by the same power (now the Ottomans) that also controlled Anatolia. Still, given the makeup of the population by the 1930s (plurality Turk with a significant Armenian minority), I’m not sure it would have been a stable fit within Syria.

    The French decision to carve Lebanon out of Syria as a separate Christian and Druze state unfortunately created two unstable countries where there might have been one stable one. Syria can’t feed itself and Lebanon can’t defend itself or reconcile its feuding communities. Ah, colonialism.

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