2 July 2015

Is the UK’s response to the Tunisian murders really going to be an argument about what to call the terrorists?


Thirty or more Britons are murdered on a beach. These were men and women who had travelled abroad in search of rest, recreation and recuperation, only to end up dead at the hands of an Islamist terrorist. Back home, tributes are paid to the fallen, and then, almost incredibly, as if to underline the diminished status of the UK, there proceeds to be a daft argument about what the government and the media should call the terrorists.

While it is just about possible that a debate about language should form some small element of the discussion about how to respond, because terminology and the power of words matter, it is surely only one tiny detail in a much bigger picture.

There was a time – as recently as the 1980s – when their murder might have prompted targeted retaliatory action by the British against the group that inspired, and perhaps funded, the murderers. Today, we British no longer do things that way, it seems. The vague possibility of some airstrikes on Islamic State in Syria has been floated but it will not be on the agenda for months, as the government thinks it would need Labour support and ministers must wait and see what happens when the opposition has a new leader later this year.

Garnering much more attention is the campaign that is up and running in Parliament and elsewhere to force the BBC to rebrand Islamic State as Daesh. Alex Salmond is leading the way, of course, which is bound to have ISIS/Islamic State quaking in their boots: “Oh no, Alex Salmond is on the BBC Parliament Channel…”

David Cameron started this row the other day, which has so far been the one blemish on his first-rate response to the events in Tunisia. The BBC should stand its ground, defend its editorial independence and use the name its editors want.

Anyway, does anyone think that an argument about the name is going to make the slightest difference in the battle against Islamic State, who are unquestionably extremist Muslims in the process of establishing a terror state? Arguing about the nomenclature is about as much use in the long-run as arguing in 1938 that it was important to be clear that the Nazis, the National Socialists, weren’t really proper socialists at all.

You can call the latest Islamist imitators of the Nazis the Blue Meanies as far as I’m concerned. ISIS or Islamic State are fanatical killers out to destroy our way of life. In the end, it doesn’t matter what we call them. What is much more important is that we defeat them.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX.