The Civilitary Theory​​

​​​​In his 1946 landmark essay Politics and the English Language, George Orwell warned of the huge dump of worn-out words and metaphors that “have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.” Orwell envisioned a future in which scholars, diplomats, and leaders would “let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around” noting with sorrow “the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them."

​For the ordinary person, the term “War” conveys the notion of sovereign states’ militaries confronting each other. Yet today the global “war” on terrorism takes place mostly in residential areas where sovereign states attempt to pinpoint evasive terrorists or hidden terrorist infrastructure. These terrorists embed themselves in dense civilian populations to ensuretheir own survival and intentionally place men, women, and children in the line of fire. The use of the term “war” fails to fully capture the hybrid nature of the modern battlefield. Other terms also seem to miss the mark, such as military conflict” or “military clashes,” as they focus on the military aspects of the battlefield and do not adequately address the tragic loss of civilian lives.

​​The term “terrorist group" is a generic term that has been attached to many designated groups or affiliations that inflict harm on civilians.  But are all terrorist groups alike? How similar are the small and large groups currently reshaping the borders, territories and the geopolitics of the Middle East?

Members of certain terrorist groups officially serve as ministers in governments. Other groups comprise entire governments.  Some have political and military wings. Some are rich; others are not. Some export oil to neighboring states. Others effectively control banking or financial systems. Some terrorist groups join hands with transnational organized crime, engage in narco-terrorism or take part in pharmaceutical crimes.

UN Security Council 2249 (20 November 2015) "Calls upon Member States... to  eradicate the safe haven they [ISIL] have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria".  

Terrorist groups exploit weakened central governments and overall turmoil to add a clear territorial dimension to their previously virtual infrastructure. They also govern the lives of the civilians. What should we name the territorial dimension of terrorism?  The territorial dimension of terrorism has become so extensive that the traditional term “terrorist safe haven” is outdated. 

First, while the term "safe haven" accounts mostly for the territorial dimensions of terrorist sanctuary, the term in practice captures neither the magnitude nor the severity of the phenomenon.  The language of the aforementioned UN Security Council Resolution 2249 which called upon member states "to eradicate the safe haven they [ISIL] have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria" is stale. The Syrian regime does not provide a shelter or a "safe haven" for ISIL. To the contrary, ISIL and the Syrian army continue to clash over Syrian territory. ISIL seeks to establish its own state and to rule in place of the Syrian regime. 

The more traditional version of terrorists groups, had no desire to rule. Territorial terrorist groups, on the other hand, wish to rule and want a state of their own. These patterns, which are typically the activities carried out by states, have nothing in common with the traditional term “safe haven". The use of this term with respect to ISIL and similar groups may unfortunately lead to misinterpretation of the phenomenon and the challenge it poses to the international community.  

Finally, let us consider ISIL. - How do we name the phenomenon that ISIL represents?  The common and somewhat striking answer was that we have no name for the phenomenon. Everybody simply call it ISIL, which is nothing but a translation from Arabic (الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام ) meaning “the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.”  While the leaders of the world seek to degrade and destroy the phenomenon, the international community is still stuck with a fuzzy and inconsistent name (sometimes ISIL, sometimes ISIS, and sometimes Da’ish)  that says nothing about the phenomenon itself.  

Why do we continue to use old vocabulary

 without acknowledging that a fundamental change has taken place—

 that should be supported by a fresh vocabulary?

 The Territorial Dimension of Terrorism

ISIL Parade Tanks 

in Syria

Outdated Terms 

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  George Orwell