ISIS, labels and unintended consequences.

One thing that writers should deal with, but often ignore, is symbolism, and the related titles, labels, etc. How many times have you seen in fiction the plot involving a misunderstanding of a symbol? Sometimes? For me, not very often. So, you say, it doesn’t happen in real life, so why raise this? Well, it does happen sometimes, and there have been examples here recently.

With terrorism as a hot topic, slumbering New Zealand got a bit of a wake-up call when it was alleged that we were inundated with terrorists and we were doing nothing about it. The accusation was that ISIS is alive and well here, and even has a website. In fact there is such a website named There is also, so you see the hotbed connotations.

Now, to return to my scientific background, the way a scientist views such a proposition is to say, if that proposition is true, then we should see . . . In this case, we might expect to see some nasty terrorist publicity. So, it seems only right that the test is to click on the links and see this horrible stuff. Now we see a problem. The first link is to a company that has set itself up as building inspectors, and was registered in about 1991. Now, in this country, building inspections are sometimes imposed by the bureaucracy (at other times by potential purchasers of buildings) and there will be some on the extreme right wing who equate bureaucracy and government regulations with terrorism, but they will be on the extreme right wing and can safely be pushed to one side, preferably on a very large rocket to the other side of the galaxy. No, that is a perfectly safe company that is doing its best to earn those working there a crust or so. The second one offers computing services, and again, one could argue that computers are diabolical instruments, particularly when they don’t work, but this is another company that is of no problem whatsoever. All that has happened is at one stage, they chose an unfortunate name. (I understand one member of Isis Ltd has asserted that they got the name first and they want the terrorists to abandon it and give it back. Yes, well, we can all see that happening some time soon.)

So, all is well? Not quite. All this has stirred up a fuss when someone registered at least one dropbox company with a domain name ending in .is. Now .is is apparently Iceland’s domain, and this got some attention from the Icelandic domain name manager. The concept of the dropbox is that one person at least must be resident in the country and take responsibility wher the company is registered, but the rest of the participants can be anywhere, and in this case, the resident was in New Zealand. This raised the question, why pick the Icelandic domain name? Because it looks like ISIS? That was a good enough question to get people investigating. The resident had a Muslim name, and during its admittedly very brief existence this website was apparently transmitting ISIS propaganda. The resident denies knowledge and argues he was just a contact person, the website has been taken down, but the reader may now see the pernicious problems that can arise. (The fact that the contact name was required so that someone takes responsibility seems to have eluded this person.) A name and a symbol can be very important things.

Another symbol to hit the dirt, is a suggested change to the New Zealand flag. One possibility was a silver fern on a black background, but following ISIS I rather suspect this is one flag that will not fly.

This issue can be very important for an author to note too. When writing fiction, not every reader will see things in the same light as you do. The web has a number of discussion on what can be written relating to real entities, and my view is, be very very careful. On the other hand, who, like our building inspectors, can see what symbols will be bad news over twenty years later? One symbol I have used in my latest two books is safe: the finned boar, the symbol of Legio XX Valeria. Since it is about two thousand years old, I feel safe.

Speaking of books, for those interested in reading something different from the gate-kept traditional publishers, apart from trying one of mine, which I assure you, will be different, you might try from the selection listed at

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