What's the difference?

Both are outdated names. The group that most people called “ISIS” is actually official simply know as the “Islamic State” or “IS.” It has been known by a lot of other names in the past, but the three most common are:

There are at least five other names this group has been known by since its founding in 1999. “ISIS” gained the most traction with the public (likely because it corresponds to an English word), but the group itself seems to refer to itself more often as “ISIL.”

The Levant is the entire eastern Mediterranean from Turkey around to Egypt, so ISIL would be the geographically larger ambition. (Notably, the Wikipedia page is titled “Islamic State” but uses “ISIL” in the text.)

President Obama pointedly used “ISIL,” and there was speculation on the reason, though most of the “explanations” had a political slant, depending on the source.

Whatever its name, the group is not particularly well-defined. There are lots of people and offshoots that claim to be part of the group, so getting very specific on naming is difficult.

The origins of the group can be traced to The Organization of Monotheism and Jihad, founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 1999. Zarqawi was killed in an American air strike in 2006. Since his death, the group merged and split many times, resulting in…sort of…the ISIS we know today.

Why I Looked It Up

I was looking up the definition of The Levant and I remembered the term “ISIL.” I got to wondering what the difference was.

(True story: I used to own a web development company, and we were contracted to build a new website for a chain of hotels that had just rebranded. Their new name? Isis Hospitality. This was in 2013. Not surprisingly, in 2015, they rebranded again as “Liv.”)

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