What Isis in a name?

The toxic ripples from a cowardly gaggle of marauding jackals

The name of a man is a numbing blowfrom which he never recovers.— Marshall McLuhan

Applies to women too, Marshall — as Julie Campbell in Worcestershire, England, could tell you. Or the folks in the Institute for Science and International Security. Or Ms. Martinez in Miami.  They all know about the numbing blow a name can cause because they all share the same name. A name that, in the last few months has morphed from meaning ‘sacred and beautiful’ to connotations of horror and revulsion.

The name? Just two simple letters repeated: ISIS.

Julie Campbell runs a women’s clothing store in Worcestershire, England. For seven years it’s sported a sign that reads ‘Isis’ in elegant italic over the front door. Last month she got a letter warning her that her shop would be bombed if she didn’t change   the name.

Then there’s Ms. Martinez of Miami, Florida. Her first name is Isis. “People react almost every time they hear it” she says.

And not well. Her latest encounter: a hospital receptionist asked her how to pronounce her name.

“Her face showed such incredible sadness when I told her,” Ms. Martinez recalled. “She said that she felt for me and was there a middle name that she could call me instead.”

Ms. Martinez is having a hard time.  “I love my name” she says. “It’s a beautiful name.”

Indeed it is — or was. It is the name of a goddess revered by the ancient Egyptians as a symbol of womanhood, fertility and magic.

She was so popular the Ancient Greeks and Romans adopted her in their mythological pantheons.  Wiccans still worship her. Freemasons acknowledge her. Mozart even gives Isis a favourable nod in his opera, The Magic Flute.

Isis represents truth, beauty and serenity for thousands of years. And then along comes an excrescence of cowardly monsters armed with butchers’ knives who smear and defile the name forever.

Or perhaps not. The criminal fanatics who are so much in the news never refer to themselves as ISIS. That’s a name some American journalist came up with, standing for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The name is confusing and inaccurate (their ambitions are much grander than a mere two countries — as citizens of Ottawa and St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec can attest).

Some have suggested that IS for ‘Islamic State’ would be a better fit — but that’s misleading too. They represent no state, though their toxic ripples emanate across the world, affecting not just victims in the Middle East but also an English shopkeeper, a Latina in Miami — even the receptionist in an office in Halifax, N.S., who now answers each call with the full name of the establishment, Immigrant Settlement and Integration Services, instead of “ISIS, may I help you?”

All thanks to a gaggle of marauding jackals who lack the expertise to manage a flea market. All they have is weapons, pan-hatred and an as-yet-unrealized death wish.

We wish them Godspeed with the latter.

— Arthur Black lives on Saltspring Island. His column appears every Tuesday in The NEWS. E-mail: arblack43@shaw.ca.

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