Why we will continue as Isis International
By Susanna George
Recently, we received an email that says: "Isis is a low scumbag - can't wait till we bomb you to hell..."
How should an organization that has for forty years worked on promoting women's human rights and feminist movement building using the name Isis International respond? As the Islamic State (IS) beheads and murders its way to infamy, ISIS, the acronym that was used by global media outlets for the English translation of the Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham's long Arabic name, seems to have stuck. The fact that our name has inadvertently become associated with a band of terrifying, social media-savvy murderers had not escaped our notice certainly. We, like so many others, are incredulous and horrified at the enormity of the IS.
In recent weeks, we've had an increased number of friends and allies contacting us with concern. Do we have a plan to distance ourselves given the unfortunate association by name, they ask? Initially, we were slightly indignant that anyone might even remotely associate us to this entity. Surely, Isis International and the IS don't move in similar circles, we thought. However, in the boundary-less, infinitely searchable world of cyberspace, a quick google or hashtag search makes it possible to randomly search, find and "know" names, concepts, news and people in ways that were unimaginable before. In this giant cyber-neighbourhood sense of the concept, Isis International and the IS do exist in "similar circles" today.
As we've discovered, so are hundreds of other organisations and people who are either named Isis, or sell or carry products that use ISIS as a brand label. We have read news of organisations that have chosen to change their names or product brands while others have chosen to keep them. We, at Isis International, have joined the keepers, and chosen to embrace our name.
Our founders chose the name Isis in the early 1970's, inspired by the concept of the Egyptian mother goddess Isis, who symbolizes creativity, knowledge, and women's power. Our early slogan as an organisation was "Information is Power," making a strong assertion that women everywhere needed to be knowledgeable and have information and communications to make informed choices, organise themselves and secure their human rights and livelihood. The name Isis International provides us continuity to these inspired beginnings, all we've achieved in the last four decades and firmly grounds us in where and who we are today.
No doubt there may be those who don't know us who may carelessly link our hashtag, Twitter handle or URL to their protests against IS. Even so, we believe that we have sufficient history and credibility within a vast network of friends, training alumni, partners and allies who know that Isis International strives to realize a world far different from the one that the Islamic State aspires to.
So, our response to the stranger who sent us the message above? Dear Friend, This is a case of mistaken identity. Isis International strives for a world where respect for diverse perspectives, democratic spaces for critical engagement and dialogue, the upholding of all human rights and freedom from oppression, coercion, hatred and violence is a reality of all peoples. Check out our link: www.isiswomen.org
Susanna George is the current Chair of the Board of and former Executive Director of Isis International.