'ISIL' and Defeatist Psychology
It is fashionable these days to say, “ISIL or ISIS, take your pick,” when referring to the hellish jihadists swarming in Iraq. But the terms are not synonymous. One could argue the legitimacy of the term ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), inasmuch as two countries bear those names. However, ISIL (Islamic State of the Levant) does not refer to any modern nation-state at all. It is a fiction.
Levant may make somebody with a PhD in the State Department feel important. The academic resonance of the term may make Harvard types in the Obama administration feel their world history chops. But Levant is an aggregative term used mostly by scholars to lump together millemnia of cultures and civilizations in the Middle East near the Mediterranean. The term has no more contemporary legitimacy than say, jihadists renaming the USA the ISAIT, the Islamic State in American and Indian Territories.
Use of the term Levant is in the tradition of John Kerry’s reference to “Jenjiss” Khan to describe his fellow soldiers -- but more subtle than that grotesque objurgation. The psychology of defeating enemies involves clearly identifying them and isolating them from other groups. The term "Levant" does the opposite. It obfuscates the identity and empowers the Islamic warriors in the current crisis. It associates the jihadist warriors with a vast pre-Islamic history and a large piece of land they do not hold. In effect, use of the term ISIL psychologically cedes that geography to the enemy.
In the current world crisis the operant distinction is not between moderate and radical Muslims, but between militarized and non-militarized Muslims. All Islamic people follow the same scripture, which sanctifies warfare. Whether Muslims are militarized or non-militarized has to do with how they choose to enact their scripture. The Bible, especially the Old Testament, also upholds the righteousness of war to defend one’s country. But notwithstanding the rewriting of history regarding the so-called Crusades, Christians have never used military conquest to spread their religion. Any comparison between Christianity and Islam regarding military conquest is absurd.
ISIL is a psychologically defeatist term because it associates an extremely militarized group of barbaric Islamists in a narrow theater of war with great military powers that held sway over the world before the modern state existed. Regarding the current crisis in Syria and Iraq, the peoples of those nation states are going to have to choose if they are willing to live under the rule of frenzied cruelty in the name of religion. The people of the United States are going to have to decide if, and then how, to help them.