The Marriage of Denial and Groupthink

28919296 - concept of fear with businessman like an ostrichWhen psychologists begin to ponder liberals’ refusal to acknowledge Islamic terrorism, they will likely stumble over one another in their rush for research grants to probe the phenomenon. Some brave doctoral student might also wonder what cognitive defect caused the psychologists to avoid the issue for so long. (Chances are she won’t get that dissertation topic approved.)

At this time, however, relatively few psychologists are showing much interest in the matter. This despite President Obama’s torture of language in calling the Fort Hood murders “workplace violence,” his continuing avoidance of the term “Islamic terrorism,” and his peculiar explanations of that avoidance, notably the one on February 18, 2015.

On that occasion Obama spoke about ISIS murdering 21 Coptic Christians, beheading U.S. journalists, and burning a man alive. Yet he refused to connect the atrocities to Islam. In fact, he went out of his way to dismiss that connection, saying:

No religion is responsible for terrorism–people are responsible for violence and terrorism . . . Generations of Muslim immigrants came here and went to work as farmers and merchants and factory workers, helped to lay railroads and build up America . . . The people that commit atrocities are not religious leaders. They’re terrorists . . . We are not at war with ­Islam, we are at war with people who have perverted Islam . . . There is no one profile of a violent extremist or terrorist . . . Around the world, and in the United States, inexcusable acts of violence have been committed against people of different faiths, by people of different faiths, which is, of course, betrayal of all of our faiths.

On June 14, 2016, he went further, categorizing Muslims in general as victims of Republican denigration:

The Orlando killer, one of the San Bernardino killers, the Fort Hood killer — they were all U.S. citizens. Are we going to start treating all Muslim-Americans differently? Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start discriminat[ing against] them, because of their faith? . . . Such a reaction mak[es] Muslims in this country and around the world feel like, no matter what they do, they’re going to be under suspicion and under attack. It makes Muslim-Americans feel like their government is betraying them. It betrays the very values America stands for.

If psychologists were to read such statements in light of the principles of their own discipline, they would have no difficulty recognizing in them the defense mechanism known as denial. And if they knew Obama’s background, they would understand the reason for his denial. He spent a number of his formative years in Muslim society, was mentored by Muslims, and came to love and defend Islam and its practitioners. His desire to think well of them is therefore understandable. The problem lies in letting that desire lead him to the extreme of denying reality.

From a psychological perspective, a more interesting question is why so many liberals have embraced Obama’s perspective. Only a tiny minority of them (if any) have backgrounds similar to Obama’s. Islam is foreign to their experience, so what would make reject the fact that the main terrorism of our time is Islamic terrorism? And what would make them demonize their fellow Americans who propose more careful vetting of individuals from Muslim countries and surveillance of mosques that have given evidence of being sympathetic to violent Jihad?

Simply said, why would liberal officeholders, academicians, journalists, and commentators discriminate in favor of a religion and culture that has produced a movement that threatens their own historic religion and culture?

The answer is, because of a process known as Groupthink, by which individuals form views not from reason but from the desire for conformity to their group or peers. The process, though widely researched and discussed by psychologists, has not to my knowledge been linked to the liberal embrace of Obama’s perspective on terrorism.

The reason that Groupthink generally has unfortunate, sometimes dire, effects is that it allows for no distinction between demonstrable fact and pleasant fantasy. It is particularly dangerous in the matter of Islamic terrorism because it is reinforced by two cultural forces: Moral Relativism—the belief that decisions about right and wrong are not objective but subjective and all are equally valid; and Political Correctness, which forbids saying (or even thinking) something that could conceivably offend someone.

To summarize, Obama’s denial of the connection between Islam and terrorism has not received the scholarly analysis it deserves because liberal intellectuals are driven by Groupthink and influenced by Moral Relativism and Political Correctness. This unholy combination of forces continues to prevent America from understanding and combatting the single greatest danger to the civilized world.

Copyright © 2016 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved