Groupthink and Other Strange Phenomena

by Ann O’Brien Ahmad

ASAK. I tend to be a very analytical person. When faced with something I don’t understand, I research and think about it until it makes sense to me. For the past nine months, I have been trying to understand the behavior of IAGD’s administration (the Board of Trustees and Board of Directors).

To me, the entire topic of the expansion plan is one of issues. Does the current expansion plan make sense financially? Would a smaller expansion make more sense, so that funds can be used for other community programs? From a fiqh perspective, should the current prayer area be converted to a prayer hall? How can we make the Islamic school a higher priority in the organization?

But despite numerous attempts, we could not get anyone from the administration to discuss the issues. Presented with very persuasive arguments about why the expansion plan should be changed, the administration took it personally and attacked people rather than issues.

Major attacks against my husband and myself over the past nine months include:

  • A Board member’s wife called women in the community to try to discredit me.
  • The President sent a formal notice via e-mail, gave a speech in a packed masjid, and then he and the Vice President sent an e-mail letter to the entire community accusing my husband of threatening and assaulting someone, even though that person told the Administration that this allegation was not true. Shortly after sending the letter, the President sent an e-mail to Mansoor apologizing and saying that he would rectify the situation. To date, nothing has been done.
  • The Board of Trustees sent an 11-page letter to the community accusing my husband of holding the organization hostage and single handedly stopping progress on the expansion plan for three years.
  • A member of the Board of Trustees has been personally talking to members of the community for months, attempting to discredit Mansoor.
  • Just a couple of weeks ago, the Vice President sent two very offensive e-mails to my husband and myself, in the midst of which he accused us of criminal acts. The e-mails were so obnoxious that if he worked in a corporation, I believe he would have been fired immediately.

I have heard numerous accounts of similar actions done to other people. Although I have tried not to engage in such tactics, I think about the behavior of these individuals, because it baffles me so much.

“O assembly of those who have believed with their tongues, but into whose hearts faith has not yet reached! Do not backbite the Muslims, nor seek out their secrets! For, whoever seeks out the faults of his brother, Allah will seek out his secrets. And, whoever has his secrets sought out by Allah, Allah will disgrace him, even [if he hides] in the depths of his house.” [Abu Dawud in al-Adab, 4/271, #4880]

This is a religious organization. We are supposed to be kind to our fellow Muslims. How can the administration leading a religious organization engage in this type of behavior? Why is this type of behavior tolerated by the community? The behavior was so prevalent, that I felt there had to be an explanation for why it was allowed.

For a while, I looked at the concept of bullying, which seemed to explain some of the actions. But it didn’t explain why decisions seem to be made in a vacuum or why other people on the boards tolerated this behavior.

Then I came across the concept of groupthink and a lot of what is going on at IAGD seemed to fit. According to Time Magazine (ideas.time.com/2012/07/17/penn-state-cover-up-group-think-in-action/), “Sound decision making is impaired by the bigger concern of group unity and preservation. Insider groups—private clubs and fraternities, religious groups and sometimes corporations—are particularly prone to groupthink. The characteristics of groupthink…are that the group sets itself above the law, avoids transparency and oversight, and protects itself at all costs. Instead of trying to find the best solution, it encourages conformity of opinion, often around the wrong opinion. The phenomenon is likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions directed against out-groups.” Four well-known examples of groupthink are the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the decision to invade Iraq, and more recently, the Penn State cover-up.

According to mindtools.com, the symptoms of groupthink include:

Rationalization:
This is when team members convince themselves that despite evidence to the contrary, the decision or alternative being presented is the best one.
“Those other people don’t agree with us because they haven’t researched the problem as extensively as we have.”

Peer Pressure:
When a team member expresses an opposing opinion or questions the rationale behind a decision, the rest of the team members work together to pressure or penalize that person into compliance.
“Well if you really feel that we’re making a mistake you can always leave the team.”

Complacency:
After a few successes, the group begins to feel like any decision they make is the right one because there is no disagreement from any source.
“Our track record speaks for itself. We are unstoppable!

Moral High Ground:
Each member of the group views him or herself as moral: The combination of moral minds is therefore thought not to be likely to make a poor or immoral decision. When morality is used as a basis for decision-making, the pressure to conform is even greater because no individual wants to be perceived as immoral.
“We all know what is right and wrong, and this is definitely right.”

Stereotyping:
As the group becomes more uniform in their views, they begin to see outsiders as possessing a different and inferior set of morals and characteristics from themselves. These perceived negative characteristics are then used to discredit the opposition.
“Lawyers will find any excuse to argue, even when the facts are clearly against them.”

Censorship:
Members censor their opinions in order to conform.
“If everyone else agrees then my thoughts to the contrary must be wrong.”

Information that is gathered is censored so that it also conforms to, or supports the chosen decision or alternative.
“Don’t listen to that nonsense, they don’t have a clue about what is really going on.”

Illusion of Unanimity:
Because no one speaks out, everyone in the group feels the group’s decision is unanimous. This is what feeds the Groupthink and causes it to spiral out of control.
“I see we all agree so it’s decided then.”

I think these symptoms describe how decisions, like the expansion plan, are being made (rationalization, peer pressure, complacency, censorship, and illusion of unanimity) and why individuals who oppose their decisions are attacked personally for those opinions (moral high ground and stereotyping).

The reason I decided to write this article is because I now believe that not standing up to this type of behavior just encourages it. People who are being attacked encourage more attacks by not standing up and saying this behavior is wrong. And the community encourages this behavior by listening to the backbiting and not condemning those actions.

“Whoever is present while a Muslim is humiliated before him, and is able to assist him [and yet does not], Allah will humiliate him before [all of] creation.” [Ahmad in al-Musnad, 3/487; Suyuti in Al-Jami` As-Saghir, 2/510, #8375

What are we teaching our children here? Do we want them to be afraid to share their opinions with other Muslims for fear of being personally attacked? Do we want them to think it is acceptable to talk about others behind their backs? Do we want to be part of an organization where we have to tow the party line or we are publicly censored? I thought that was the definition of a fascist regime, not of a religious organization in a democratic country.

Do we want to talk about people or do we want to talk about the issues? I have no problem if someone wants to attack my analysis of an issue. In fact, I encourage it and believe that healthy debate about an issue is part of the shoura process and will often result in a better solution. But no one has a right to personally harass or accuse me because my opinions differ from theirs.

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10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by A mullah on November 21, 2012 at 8:53 am

    The IAGD administration is truely behaving like a fascist regime. Personal attacks in response to logical arguments is totally unacceptable . I was thinking of our BOT when I heard the news of a new NOMINATED party leader of Chinese Communist Party for ten years (just like IAGD’s BOT). And then they are using all the tactics to curb any type of accusation (with the help of a lawyer President who defends them even after the open and clear facts and preaches ADAB when people under his nose are mis behaving).

    Reply

    • Posted by Choudhry on November 27, 2012 at 2:04 pm

      Thought for the day…
      I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as a cause for withdrawing from a friend. — Thomas Jefferson

      Reply

  2. Posted by Maulvi Bashar on November 21, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    The Board of Directors and Trustees need to realize that IAGD is a religious/community organization and they should run it like one.

    The problem is that some of the Trustees have been there so long, that it makes them feel as though they have ownership of IAGD. They believe they know what is best for IAGD and no one should question their decisions. They have trained their kids to behave the same way and blindly obey their decisions.

    We can avoid this blind allegiance for their parents/uncles/cousins/friends by bringing in new members of the Board who can work for the betterment of the organization/community.

    Right now, the behavior of some of the members of the administration is not appropriate. It looks like the system is broken. The Board of Trustees should have used their wisdom appropriately. They could have stopped this division in the community from happening but were stopped by their own stubbornness.

    Allah (SWT) does not like arrogance and we should be very careful to avoid becoming arrogant

    I pray to Allah (SWT) that He unites us and gives us the wisdom to make the right decisions. Ameen.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Stalwart 1 on November 21, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    I think it’s high time that our community should stand up for the truth. They should have the courage to send the secret ballots for what they think is religiously correct,right ,just and logical.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Anonymous on November 21, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    Please forward the link of this website to your friends .I am still meeting people who don’t know about the issues ,candidates and inappropriate behavior of Board of directors and Trustees.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Member on November 21, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    I have one thing to say to sr Ann.You have given these board members too much liberty you must have a big heart . Since you have the email form the president that proofs that whatever was said against br Mansoor was not right ….it’s a straight case of “defamation “. These BOD &BOT should be taken to the court for this act of misconduct .
    They should know what are the parameters of morality , for if they have been crossed they have to face the repercussions.

    Reply

  6. JAK Ann for your hard work. May Allah reward you. It all makes sense. I myself was trying to figure out how they could rationalize their behavior. I hope we can all come together on this issue and not let it be a disaster at the end. May Allah guide us all!

    Reply

  7. Posted by Anonymous on November 23, 2012 at 11:28 am

    In the past these kind of tactics worked for them. Anytime somebody questions them or stood up to them they used these tactics and that person left the organization. This time because of people like you it’s not working. Thanks to you and everybody whoever is involved for doing all the work. Special thanks to you and to brother Mansoor for putting up with these people and being so patient. I know it must be very hard for Br. Mansoor.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Anonymous on November 24, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    When you keep pushing people away like this it’s not good for the organization. That is how we are losing good people. Instead of listening and working with these people we are making them feel like they are not needed in the organization or they are the enemies. They keep leaving IAGD and starting other organizations. Some of these organizations started after us and are doing very well. IAGD has been in a standstill for years. We could not even build sisters area for over twenty years let alone the Islamic school and other facilities. Other communities are far ahead of us because they are using all the assets they can get. All we are doing is pointing fingers at each other and making personal attacks. This is how you end up dividing the community. Some of the BOD/BOT are very protective of IAGD. They need to understand that nobody is going to take it and run away. This is a community organization and everybody has the same ownership of it. We all need to work together and for the sake of Allah (SWT).
    I pray that Allah ( SWT) unite us and we move forward. Ameen.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Anonymous on November 25, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    It is very bad that administration is behaving like this. BOD/BOT come and go. Nobody is here forever and the Masjid/IAGD is not going anywhere. Masjid is Allah’s house and Allah will take care of it. We should respect each other and should not make it personal. Let us stay united and not become the laughing stock of other communities. Some of the members of these communities are already talking about it. Specialy those who left IAGD for these reasons.

    Reply

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