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The Clash of GroupThinks
The Clash of GroupThinks
Massud Alemi
November 30, 2007

A day doesn't pass by any more without newspapers carrying scary reports about how the U.S. is so close to militarily invading Iran, either directly flying American fighter jets to hit targeted spots inside the country or through Israel. For a while you read reports about the Islamic republic's Uranium enrichment activities. Then it was the proliferation of weapons and giving weapons and training to Shiite militias in Iraq who in turn used these weapons to attack American soldiers. Even the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp. and its elite Quds group were put on the list of the supporters of terrorism. You can almost hear the drum roll in the distance.

The main problem is that these reports don't seem to be getting the scrutiny that they deserve, by the shear size of calamity they may help create, reminiscent of the WMD reports from Iraq circa 2002 and 2003, pre-invasion. A certain distasteful GroupThink seems to be in its beginning stages of formation. And since GroupThink is the byproduct of clique activities, one can't help but blame the media for cultivating, or at least abetting the creation of a new myth based on which the country might be dragged into the mess and uncertainty of a whole another war.

Sports teams are molded into GroupThink; they all (except for the New York Giants, perhaps) suffer from Illusion of Invulnerability, and Shared Stereotypes. GroupThink is a natural byproduct of human interaction, and groups (as well as individuals) should be protected from its hazards by conscious effort (education, raising awareness, etc ...).

To a great extent, political parties too suffer from GroupThink, especially the top leaders. They constitute the highest echelons, the farthest from the roots, where tire meets the road. The GOP suffers from Shared Stereotypes (evil liberals, abortion-is-murder-in-any-circumstance, etc …), and Illusion of Morality. Democrats suffer from Shared Stereotypes as well. No doubt about it. Looking at the recent past, it occurs to me that we have pretty strong GroupThink tendencies in America. For example, the fact that the entire nation succumbed to the war rhetoric (Iraq War), without any reservation or question, is a dead give away. When GroupThink gets big and out of control, it gets hungry and has a tendency to go on and consume a whole people. Then you have a monster on your hand that you have to deal with. I think we all have seen this on the big, international scale. Saddam Hussein and Mullah Omar were two prime examples of such monsters.

Fundamentalist movements in Saudi Arabia (OBL), Iran (Khomeini), Egypt (Seyyed Qutb, Zawaheri and the Akhavan Ul-Moslemin), Pakistan and Afghanistan (Mullah Omar and the Taliban) all at some point were contacted and maybe were even recipients of support, whether political or material, from the West under a large and strategic plan named "the Green Belt." The green belt was a brainchild of some American think tanks in the 1970s and people like Brzynski (Carter's National Security Advisor) and others. The color green refers to Islam. The belt was supposed to impede the advances of the biggest and baddest GroupThink that ever existed on the earth: the old Soviet Union. After all Islam was inherently anti-communist. This "brilliant" strategy was to prevent the Soviet Union from expanding its way southward, to warm waters, by raising local barriers to it. Don't laugh, but at the time it looked like a smart idea.

Religious fundamentalism didn't use to be considered violent in this country (although I don't know how many federal buildings have to be blown up by Timothy McVeigh-types, and how many Planned Parenthood doctors have to be murdered for us to revisit that notion.) At any rate, because we saw American religious fundamentalism as a non-violent movement, the same characterization was stretched to Middle Eastern Islamic fundamentalism. Each and every one of those movements were helped financially and otherwise, boosted to dominance in their area at the expense of annihilation of secular nationalist movements, in the hope of taking care of the job without involving American might or money.

But something funny happened on the way to contain the communist threat. Once the Soviet Union crumbled, the region's fundamentalist groups took all the credit, became bold, and got to GroupThinking if they could get rid of one superpower, what stops them from getting rid of the other one while they were at it? That's when the relationship between the Islamic fundamentalist groups and America went south.

At this point the West had stopped supporting them, because America didn't need them any more. So, they turned to black market and to their more successful brothers who had managed to seize control of a government. By this time the Iranian revolution had survived a war and a decade of initial turbulence. It was proud of its track record, so it started funneling petro-dollars to these movements. America by opposing them, at this point, became the target they all could be unified against. The Islamic Republic of Iran even started its own surrogate movements in Lebanon and inside the Palestinian territories. This thing got really big in the 90s, and it was too late for America to try to contain it. The rest is history.

All Moslems and people of Middle-Eastern descent ought to be glad that everyone makes the distinction between the current Middle Eastern terrorist movement and the religion that it uses to justify its murderous instincts. I was never a Republican in my life, but I give credit to President Bush for separating the murderers from the ordinary people. Democrats had never taken the time to define what was going on either. President Bush made the distinction and said clearly that these are a few angry men with murder on their mind. By saying that, he prevented a backlash against Americans of Middle Eastern descent, and (all disagreements that I have with him aside) that is the mark of a civilized man.

Terrorism is nothing new to the Middle East. Recently, OBL has used the Palestinian cause to justify himself. He has tried to portray himself as a people's warrior, but the problem with that logic is a warrior unleashes war on the warriors of the other side, not on civilians, defenseless men, women, and children. And he is not even doing the warring. He recruits children in their teens or younger, brainwashes them into thinking they are doing God's work, and sends them off to blow up civilians, while taking cover in a cave, out of harm's way.

I think there has to be a management effort on a gigantic scale on our part (American and the West, in general) to involve the mainstream Arab communities here and in Europe and in the Middle East, and begin a sincere dialogue among all parties. America is currently hedging all its bets on secular and modern groups in the Middle East to work and create values to counter fundamentalists, but that's hardly enough. I think mainstream Moslems should also be included. President Bush went to the Islamic Center in Washington, DC right after the September 11 attacks, and said to the Moslem folks that had gathered for their Friday Prayers: "Islam is not the enemy," which was the right thing to do and say. Lets face it, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the US. The way these mainstream communities are treated should reflect those sentiments pronounced by the president, something that is yet to happen. Just ask any veiled woman or Middle Eastern looking bearded man standing in the security check point line at the airport.

Somehow, through a huge act of good will the fear has to give its place to genuine acceptance. And "those people" have to get the impression that they are accepted. That impression thing is not there yet, and has to be addressed. I don't expect that kind of management to come from the Middle East. But I have every reason to believe that if we are to survive this terror-filled era of ours, it is up to America to break down the GroupThink mentality and construct the management tools and concepts to create that impression. It would be a far greater experience than navigating the Cold War to victory, because today's challenge is far bigger than the challenge presented by the old Soviet Union.

I remain eternally optimistic.

Massud Alemi

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