Many in the international media are still not sure which of the two acronyms, ISIL and ISIS, is more suitable to describe the Sunni militia that recently made headlines as it captured the Iraqi city of Mosul and its adjoining districts.
Until recently it was referred to as ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant’, hence the acronym ISIL. The acronym now being commonly used is ISIS as the militant organisation is being referred to as ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’. The Sunni militia, in Arabic, calls itself Al-Daulatul Islamiya fil Iraq wal-Shaam, meaning ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham’. Thus calling it ISIS is correct. But few in the media know that Levant is not the same as present-day Syria.
The Levant is an old term referring to countries of the eastern Mediterranean. Some scholars include in it Cyprus and a small part of Turkey. But basically the Levant has throughout history meant Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. This means Jordan, the West Bank (now under Israeli occupation) and Israel itself are part of the Levant.
For Pakistanis there is added confusion because we refer to Syria as Shaam. Which is misleading, because the country we call Shaam is referred to by the Arabs as Soorya.
In Arabic, the Levant is called Baldatush-Shaam, of which Soorya, with its capital at Damascus, is part. The Jordan river’s east bank was also part of Palestine. Now it is the state of Jordan and part of the Levant.
The Levant is the world’s most blood-drenched land, especially the coastal strip, for there is no other place in the world which has been fought for so much, the next being perhaps Flanders.
Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2014