How Global Voices Reports on ISIS

ISIS, the Al Qaeda offshoot which has come to control large parts of Iraq and Syria using brutal and violent tactics, has gone through many name changes, the latest of which is the “Islamic State.”

We prefer not to use this term or spell out ISIS because using these names inadvertently reinforces the dominant narrative that Islam equals violence. That is one of many singular misinformed narratives we try to rectify every day at Global Voices, and we feel using the name the group has chosen for itself, which  most media outlets have to one degree or another accepted, goes against our editorial code and values.

From GV's editorial code:

Be aware of the labels you attach to individuals, people and groups. Question terms, names, photos or practices used in other media and by governments – only use labels that are in line with our code and values.

Our ISIS policy

While reporting on ISIS we use a description of the group:

“ISIS is an Al Qaeda offshoot which has come to control large parts of Iraq and Syria using openly brutal, oppressive and violent tactics.”

At Global Voices, we have made a collective decision to just refer to them as ISIS because most readers will understand what we are talking about. We chose not to spell out their name because we do not want a religion of 1.6 billion adherents to be mislabeled because of the action of a few thousand fighters using Islam’s name.

The discussion

Last year in September we had a long discussion with the subject “How should GV refer to the “Islamic State” or ISIS?” on the mailing list.

Many thanks to Gilad Lotan, Farhan Janjua, Afef, Thalia, Victor Salama, Leila Nachawati, Gohary, Arzu, Suzanne, Ellery Biddle, Lauren Finch, Juke Carolina, Ruslan, Jillian York, Subhashish, Tanya Lokot, Nevin Thompson and Noor Mattar, and others for participating in the discussion. This post and policy was created by compiling the main points, links and reference documents shared in that discussion.

What’s in a name?

A group of 140 prominent Sunni Muslim scholars wrote an open letter to the group telling them they had no right to use Islam or State in their name because their self-proclaimed goals of statehood or Caliphate and brutal acts of destruction and violence are forbidden in Islam.

According to the Guardian's Ian Black a group of British imams told Prime Minister Cameron that he should use the expression “Un-Islamic State” while referring to the group because they are neither Islamic nor a state

From US based media outlet Vox:

Last week, Prime Minister David Cameron and a group of 120 members of Parliament asked the BBC to stop calling ISIS “the Islamic State.” The name, Cameron said, would cause Muslim audiences to “recoil every time they hear [it].” Rather, he said, the group should be called by the derogatory name Daesh — an Arabic acronym for ISIS that also sounds like the Arabic for “one who sows discord.”

The BBC has so far refused Cameron's request. But this is a debate that's extending beyond the UK. A number of Arab governments and France's foreign minister already use Daesh, for examples, a policy that apparently has irritated ISIS quite a bit. And some analysts here in the US refer to them by that name.

Most Arab government and media refer to the group by their Arabic acronym Daesh. The US government calls them by an acronym associated with one of their first names,“Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” or ISIL. Most western press calls them either ISIS or Islamic State. The group wants the West to call them the “Islamic State”.

AFP had this to say about the subject:

We have decided no longer to use the expression “Islamic State” as the jihadist movement rebranded itself a few months ago. From now on AFP will refer to it as “the Islamic State group” or “Islamic State organisation”, and as “IS jihadists” in headlines and news alerts.

The US-based alternative media outlet Vox general policy is to translate “al-Sham” as Syria and refer to the group's name as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria rather than the Islamic State. That means they use the acronym ISIS rather than IS or ISIL.

Assumption of collective responsibility

While some Muslim advocacy groups have come out strong to condemn ISIS, like a community organization in East London called Active Change Foundation, which started a Twitter campaign around the hashtag #NotInMyName, other Muslims are frustrated with having to bear the brunt of collective responsibility, again and expressed their concerns using the sarcastic hashtag #MuslimApologies.

Massive problematic perceptions of Islam

Muslims in the United States, face problematic public perceptions of their religion: 50 percent of Americans believe that Islam, more than other religions, encourages violence among its believers, according to the Pew Research Center.’

A different survey by Pew’s global arm found that 58 percent of people across the Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Russia and the United States think Muslims are fanatical and 50 percent think they are violent (50 percent).

But despite perceptions, the majority of Muslims around the world (72 percent) actually reject violence and think targeting civilians in the name of Islam is never justified.


The next time you are writing a piece that involves ISIS on Global Voices, simply call them “ISIS” and add a description of what the group does, similar to this:

“ISIS is an Al Qaeda offshoot which has come to control large parts of Iraq and Syria using openly brutal, oppressive and violent tactics.”


  • I’ve looked back over the email discussion leading up to this and would like to note that the majority of the MENA team felt that Daesh was most appropriate, given ISIS/ISIL’s deep dislike of it. Though I realize we’re a global group and so is our audience, and recognizability is important, I still believe that Daesh is the more appropriate choice; I also think that the views of those living in the affected region should be given more weight.

    That said, I like the qualifier and think that’s really important.

  • I feel rather offended by the mere discussion of “Islamic vs un-Islamic”. This contributes, at least indirectly, to the so-called need for Muslims to “apologize” for the militant group existence. A militant group should be called a militant group, and should be discussed as a militant group, as long as there no global consensus on what constitutes as terrorism, especially for crimes committed by whites.

    If there is an acronym that describes a militant group’s name, then the acronym should be used (I don’t really understand where “one who sows discord” come from). But from translation point of view, acronyms are not translated, they are used as is. I see that the more we describe things from linguistic point of view the better, because this will save us from the discussion of being political or not (considering that some think using Daesh offends the militant group, and therefore using the term is political bias of sorts).

    I have my cultural reason to be offended by ISIS usage, because this: , not to mention many Egyptian brand businesses who are facing PR hell because of the name, especially as we have already the Arabic alternative, or may I say origin vs English alternative.

  • Thanks, JCY! Seemed like a good time to write this post because this policy has been informally working seamlessly the last 9 months. But our policy is always revisit-able and isn’t meant to be exclusionary.

    If an author feels strongly against using the term ISIS, we’ll be flexible with the label. We’ll keep Daesh if that is what they wrote, and add (also known as ISIS in the qualifier/description). We have done this in the past, but haven’t really had many requests to do so. We are only really particular about not using “Islamic State” and adding a solid description/qualifier of the group.

    If an author doesn’t want ISIS anywhere in their post, then perhaps we could accompany the post with a note explaining that decision, so our global readers know what the post is about and are prompted to question their own acceptance of the label. I think we can play an important role is bridging the perception gap when it comes to the group’s various names and labels.

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.