What's in a Name?

Why did changing the name of a terrorist group become so significant to the community? Here is the story why Rehman Chishti, Member of Parliament for Rainham and Gillingham, won the Grassroot Diplomat Initiative Award.

Rehman Chishti MP

Rehman Chishti MP

Having recently won the Policy Driver Award for Countering Extremist Propaganda, Rehman Chishti MP, representing the constituency of Gillingham and Rainham, has certainly raised the stakes in internal government lobbying. After much ardent commitment, Mr Chishti successfully influenced his government to refer to the terrorist group, the so-called Islamic State as “Daesh” as part of daily rhetoric to move away from the peaceful message of Islam.

In an attempt to gain legitimacy, the terrorist organisation has linked itself to Islam and misrepresented its message on a global scale. Stressing the importance of terminology, Mr Chishti encouraged the name “Daesh” to tackle their self-proclaimed legitimacy, appeal and propaganda which he described as sucking in vulnerable people around the world. Backed by a number of ambassadors including those representing Turkey, Kuwait, Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, the MP worked laboriously to persuade the government to veer away from calling the group ‘Islamic State’ to reduce its reference to Islam and help repair community cohesion.

In June 2015, Mr Chishti campaigned on a larger scale, submitting a letter to the Prime Minister and to the BBC urging for the permanent name change. His letter was eventually backed by over 170 Members of Parliament across the political spectrum, including high profile individuals such as the Mayor of London, the former First Minister of Scotland and the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which received widespread media coverage. The process was by no means an easy feat, but Mr Chishti drew inspiration from leaders such as Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani Prime Minister whom he worked for as an advisor. She once told him that: “The key to success is perseverance. Keep going until you achieve what you believe in” – a message that served him well.

After months of campaigning, Mr Chishti gained favourable support from Prime Minister David Cameron, who in December 2015 announced that it was “time to follow our key ally France, the Arab League and other members of the international community in using, as frequently as possible, the terminology Daesh.” The name holds negative connotations in Arabic and means ‘one who sows discord’, a label much more appropriate to the terrorist organisation seeking to expedite the rise of a caliphate by rampaging the Middle East than ‘Islamic State’. Adopted by several Middle Eastern countries as well as Turkey, Australia and France, Mr Chishti’s efforts were immensely successful in persuading the government to change their lexicon. Stating that the campaign has made people better aware of the issue and the importance of using the right terminology, drawing a clear line between Islam and terrorism, his challenge now lies in convincing the media to fully adopt “Daesh” into their vocabulary.

Strengthening community links has been an important part of Mr Chishti’s career and as a prominent leader in interfaith communication, he says that “interfaith dialogue is important because it encourages tolerance, respect and lays the foundations for community engagement and community involvement.” Within his own home town which has faced social, economic and health challenges, he describes having the opportunity to push for positive local changes as a real privilege. As well as local issues, Mr Chishti has campaigned for religious freedom around the world, in particular highlighting the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman of five who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan. Through his intervention, he requested the case to be reviewed with the support of a letter signed by 54 other Members of Parliament. A firm believer in interfaith understanding, he also hosted a discussion in parliament on freedom of belief alongside the former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali.

As a winner of the Grassroot Diplomat Initiative Award, he underlines that while it “is a privilege to be recognised for a campaign that meant so much to many communities who do did not want their peaceful religion to be associated with terrorists…. [this] award [is not] for me, but an award for our democracy and for parliament.”

Upon receiving the award, Mr Chishti established the uniqueness of Grassroot Diplomat’s work by noting that no other award recognises two important pillars of society as “both diplomats and MP’s play an important role in connecting governments and people.”

Grassroot Diplomat will be keeping a close eye on his continued campaign with this war against terrorism and wish him the best in his next endeavours.