Meeting Minutes 1448 January 12, 2016

Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences
Minutes of the CAAS 1448th Meeting
January 12, 2016
Whitney Center, Hamden, CT

Minutes of CAAS Meeting 1448:  Steven Judd, Professor of Middle East History, Southern Connecticut State University

ISIS—Medieval, Apocalyptic, or Opportunistic?” 

Introduction: Gregory Tignor, President of CAAS, convened the meeting.  He announced that there will be a Council Meeting on February 20 at the CAAS office library at 11 AM.  He introduced the new Interim Treasurer, Nancy Scanlon and expressed gratitude for her willingness to serve.  He then turned the meeting over to David Pettigrew, Vice President for Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU).

Professor Pettigrew thanked the Office of Academic Affairs at SCSU.

The following new members from SCSU were introduced. Darcy Kern, Luke Eilderts, Yi-Cung Tricia Lin, C. Patrick Heidkamp.

Professor Pettigrew then introduced the SCSU graduate fellow, Sarah Reeves.

Vice President Pettigrew introduced the speaker, Professor Steven Judd.  Several of his books on Medieval History were briefly described. 

Professor Judd’s Talk:  “ISIS—Medieval, Apocalyptic, or Opportunistic?”

Judd first thanked the Academy for being the 1448th speaker.  His talk about ISIS revolved about the three topics outlined.  He will avoid the current politics other than to mention Carly Fiorina as a Medieval Scholar running for president.

He dwelled for a few minutes on the ISIS flag and pointed out that the details of the flag simply didn’t add up.  The center field is perplexing, said to come from the seal of Prophet Mohammad.  There is a grammatical problem:  God is the Messenger of Mohammad.  God’s name should not be lower than Mohammad’s.  Interested parties can buy a copy of the signet ring of Mohammad’s.  It bears the same seal.

The caliphate was a casualty of WW1.  Several groups have attempted a restoration.  General parameters have been agreed upon in the past.  ISIS claims to be the rightful successor. This is the first caliphate in hundreds of years. 

The chief of Isis, Ibrahim Baghdadi, is mystical, never seen in public.  He has given only one public speech.  His doctoral credentials have not been confirmed. Baghdadi is not obviously a brilliant theologian.  His deputy is the principal spokesman.  Many of the caliphate’s declarations are derived from ancient texts.  For example, ISIS glorifies executions.  But, in early Islam, there is no mention of throwing homosexuals off tall buildings.  Isis’ focus of medieval past is not always in keeping with ancient texts. 

Isis has reintroduced slavery.  Some struggles to determine who should be slaves in the Isis caliphate.  Sexual slavery of women is not entirely clear although there is great western media interest.  Banned smoking but there is no history of this ban in historical Islam.  Use of amphetamines is encouraged to help in fighting.  This is not compatible with the ban on smoking.

While Isis destroys antiquities, it sells miniature replicas.  Selective adoption of antiquity ideals is inherent in their ideology.  Mohammad was big on apocalyptic events.  Big battles were predicted between Rome and Muslims.  For Isis, this is their emphasis.  Their magazine, Dabiq, is well done, with excellent editing.  Reading it “messes with the mind” as stated by one of his students.

The Isis capitol around Aleppo in Syria reflects laws and ideas that have no connection with ancient Islam.  A film argues for the return to the gold standard.  Isis bans musical instruments but they use them in their films.  Anti-federal reserve and other concepts reflect western influences.  Currency reform is a contradiction.  Words and actions are theologically incompatible.  But, the major idea is confrontation.

Third adjective: Opportunistic.  Baghdadi was in prison with some of the Baathists.  Western media has focused on only certain aspects with large emphasis on Shiite and Shias relations. Isis applies bad labels to Shiites.  Isis leadership is Iraq.  Isis went into Syria out of expediency.  On a practical level, Isis has established some sense of order.  For example, in Syria, Isis attacks the prisons and releases imprisoned dissidents.  The released Syrians are eager to join the fight not from religion but from revenge. 

The focus on use of modern technology by Isis is overblown in western media where the focus is on media rather than on the message.  Isis does make high quality productions.  Their copious productions are for western consumption.  They hope to create havoc in western countries.  Some countries have recognized their use of social media.  US efforts to control Twitter have been laughably bad.  Isis is happy to claim credit for terror attacks but it’s not clear that their hand is really in there.  Those they inspire are freelancers.  Freelancers do the dirty work.

The difference between Al Qaida and Isis is that Isis doesn’t really organize anything.  Al Qaida will teach how to make a bomb.  Isis has an apocalyptic vision.  On a practical level, Isis has seized well on hostility toward US in Iraq.  Many Iraqis are willing to fight the US even though US invasion freed Shiites.  Apparently, too much damage was done during the US invasion.  Isis is trying hard to provoke US because of its apocalyptic vision.

We must not underestimate Isis.  Barring the coming of the apocalypse, Isis will be around for a long time.


Speaker: Isis spends very little effort in discussing Israel and Palestine.  Isis hasn’t made a concerted effort to become involved.  Isis is different from Al Qaida in this respect. 

Speaker: Isis is eager for the massive US military response.  Extensive US bombing gives Isis an excuse for everything that goes wrong under its rule.

Minutes by Monica Aspianto
Recording Secretary