A violent armed robber famously changed his name to Charles Bronson, after the actor. It might have helped him get more press coverage for his prison antics but the man christened Michael Gordon Peterson is no Charles Bronson. In fact, he has also called himself Charles Ali Ahmed, after 'embracing' and before renouncing Islam, and currently goes by the name Charles Salvador, in honour of fellow moustachee Dali. I haven't seen the art of the notorious prisoner, but his fantastical name changes alone could qualify him as a surrealist. Ironically - and to make matters even more confusing - the real Charles Bronson was actually christened Charles Buchinsky.
The terrorist network that calls itself the 'Islamic State' has been almost as audacious - some might say ridiculous - with its name changes over the years. However, the matter is clearer than that of Michael Peterson's identity. The simple fact is that it is NOT Islamic and it is NOT a state. It could call itself Charles Bronson and it wouldn't be any less Charles Bronson than it is an Islamic state.
As I loathe the fact that the terrorist network grandiosely, misleadingly and provocatively calls itself the Islamic State, for the rest of this piece I will call it the Unislamic Terrorists. Some have suggested calling it the Unislamic State but my quibble with that is it is NOT a state and the abbreviation US is already used for a country north of Mexico.
When people think of the dangers of the UT they will probably think of beheadings and other sickening violent incidents that have been broadcast around the world. While I share this disgust of brutality, the last bit of the last sentence is also of great concern to me. Broadcasters often find themselves in the strange situation of finding experts to condemn the terrorist network, between hours of coverage that may support the network by assisting its PR and recruitment. If I was forced to say something positive about the Unislamic Terrorists it is that its PR machine is exceptional - for a murderous criminal gang. It is slick, it uses social media with great expertise and its videos seem to be at least as effective as the army recruitment films we are subjected to at the cinema.
It is critical, therefore, to undermine the PR efforts of the Unislamic Terrorists. Relentless efforts are made by intelligence services to take down footage and messages of incitement. If the terrorist network is something we are sickened by and would like to defeat, then we can all do our small bit by refusing to use the term Islamic State and to challenge those who persist on using it - including those who use it as a way of attacking Muslims. During and after the Paris attacks the word 'Muslims' trended on Twitter repeatedly. Quite a number of the tweets behind the trend were from people fuelling fear and hate by suggesting that Muslims generally share the views of those sorts of terrorists. It was reassuring, however, that for every person foolishly equating Islam with the Unislamic Terrorists and Al-Qaeda there were many more challenging that ignorance or deliberate misinformation.
Many of those who were pushing the erroneous line about Muslims and these murderous criminal gangs seem to be on the right of the political spectrum. I found this interesting as I've noticed for some time ultra-right wingers on Twitter, especially Americans, peddle the lie that the Nazis were left wingers. This brings us back to Charles Bronson and the Unislamic Terrorists' misuse of the term Islamic State. By using the word 'socialists' in their name, the National Socialists were transparently devious, yet many right wing sources continue to repeat the lie. The reality is that Hitler and his far-right accomplices outlawed socialism and the Nazis rounded up and killed left wingers before targeting other groups.
It shouldn't really take much refection to recognise that Nazism was (and is) a far-right ideology. It victimises people on racial and cultural grounds, suppresses the population and has been in constant conflict with the left since it emerged. Nevertheless, something as simple as a misappropriated name and deliberate distortion has continued to cause conflict and confusion for the best part of a century.
The foolishness and malice of contemporary right wingers repeating lies notwithstanding, we have, as a species, come a long way since 1920. While we hope that the Unislamic Terrorists fizzle out long before they amass a fraction of the power the Nazis did, it is critical that we prevent the terrorists themselves and ignorant Islamophobic bigots from convincing people that the murderous gang that calls itself the Islamic State is either Islamic or a state. It is only extremists and those who relish and benefit from conflict who gain from the perpetuation of this distortion.