ISIS vs. ISIL. And What is the Levant?


Is it ISIS or ISIL? And what exactly is the Levant? Obviously, this evil group isn’t going away for a while, so we might as well try to understand the name.

I did a Google search on “ISIS vs. ISIL,” and gobs of articles turned up. The best one was on But I’ll try to sum up what I learned.

levantmapWhether we use ISIS or ISIL, we’re using a translation of what the group actually calls itself. Remember, not everyone in the world speaks American. Their actual name in arabic is “Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham.” That’s quite a mouthful. It roughly translates as “The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.” The “al-Sham” part is where “Levant” comes from. And it can mean several things.

The Levant CAN refer to all the territory from the Mediterranean Sea to Iran–Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, parts of Turkey and Egypt, and even more territory in the Arabian Peninsula. However, “Levant” can also refer just to Syria, or even only to the area around Damascus. Some Arab scholars say the way ISIS (or ISIL) uses the term, that’s what they mean–The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

However, others (perhaps the Obama administration, but it’s unsure) use “Levant” in the broader sense because they say that is the group’s aspiration–to establish an Islamic state covering all of those countries.

And that completes today’s lesson.

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