The Open Minds Foundation (OMF) exists to collect under one umbrella all the many manifestations there are of undue influence. Once you start listing them, it’s everywhere, isn’t it?!

If we take a quick look at the normal rules and structures that duly influence us in families, in life and work, and in all kinds of organisations, they can seem similar to the characteristics of more seriously undue influence patterns. We need to keep thinking clearly, separating out the due from the undue, and separating the different ways undue influence happens. We do not want OMF to become the kind of steamrolling presumptuous force that typifies cults themselves (here, we use the term ‘cult’ for brevity and familiarity, due to the lack of a more appropriate term).

We present a small example of clear thinking – with a global relevance.

This is also an example of the most commonly made general error of logic, the categorical error of generalising from the particular. Or the reverse: of presuming that what may be generally true means we know what is true in any and all particular situations. If this one bit of critical thinking could be learned widely, the world’s discussions would be a lot better!

A Local Connection and a Case

We (Julia and Nick) are on the list of active supporters of OMF. Because we live in Edinburgh, we can enjoy getting together to talk about it. Julia’s research brought her a letter about organised abuse happening within public organisation ‘x’. This led us to clearer thinking about this referral.

We saw that – in general, as an overall organisation – the organisation is not a totalist cult as the writer (understandably) suggested.

This organisation generally does not tick many of the boxes of undue influence. All organisations have membership criteria and rules. They may even have strange rituals and secrecy.

Use the checklist in the blogpost “Learning about a common enemy” here if you want to check out the general characteristics of undue influence for any human system. The more features you tick, the more you are describing undue influence. The fewer features you tick, the due-er (?! … let’s go for …) the less undue the influence.

Many clubs and organisations in offer freely chosen, valued membership with inside benefits and support in the outside world. They do require Enid Blyton-esque secret club rituals and rules. They even threaten dire consequences for breaking them. They do not, however, require totalist commitment with isolation from friends and family.

Yes, some ‘mainstream’ organisations unwittingly offer the opportunities for organised abuse. And so do many other institutions, clubs and organisations – residential schools, the Catholic Church, or the BBC, to name just a few. All those are not cults. They do not inherently or systematically use undue influence as part of the overall organisation functioning.

But yes, there are some people in those organisations who use the organisation as a great place to set up their own abusive activities.

And there may be a further question of blind-eye-turning, of a systemic lack of intervening in the abusive set up under the noses of the organisation. For that sub-system, that club may be operating like a cult, hence the concerned referral letter Julia received.

Out of this case, we separated three separate questions to explore. We think these questions are a template for many other similar confusions in the functioning of undue influence.

1. How much organised sexual or other abuse – and the undue influence that goes with that – is there within some of the organisation ‘x’ chapters?

2. How far do the usual rules and rituals in themselves function as undue influence like a cult does, or not? (Our guess for the likes of organisation ‘X’ is: not a lot.)

3. How, and how far, do the organisers of that sexual or other abuse employ the group’s rules and structures in their own local organisation to unduly influence and control the victims of their abuse? (This would be highly likely as it is in all in-house institutional organised abuse – the abuser already has a somewhat captive group of potential victims, isolated from outside support.)

Wider Relevance – The “Trump Trap”

The wider relevance of this logic is in a repeated mistake made in the media and in the public mind. It was addressed, for example, in a March interview in the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. We could call this mistake “The Trump Trap,”  since Donald Trump, leading Republican contender for the Presidency of the USA, suggested that terrorists could be prevented from getting in the US by stopping ALL Muslims from coming.

The cult of terrorist extremism, Daesh, operates and strives to identify itself with Islam and all Muslims (despite indiscriminate attacks on us all). It actively employs all the powers it can from turning the rules and structures of the Muslim faith to its own terrorist means and ends. But Daesh’s modus operandi does not mean that all of Islam, that is, all Muslims, are in their cult. Only a tiny percentage of Muslims support Daesh, which is a splinter group from the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam.

Part of Daesh’s powerful strategy is to force the world to take sides and equate Daesh with Islam. The world would do well not to fall into that trap – the same trap, incidentally, as The Trump Trap.

We can apply the same three questions to Daesh and Islam too:

1. How far does Daesh along with its undue influence operate within the Muslim population and its Islamic organisation/s?

2. How far do the usual rules and structures of Islam function as undue influence like a cult does? (Arguably, that is no more than many other religions or organisations do; Islamic practices do not tick many of the features of undue influence.)

3. How far do the organisers of Daesh’s extreme terrorist cult employ the rules and structures of Islam to their own purposes of undue influence and control of their members? (For example, there seems to be a total revision, a reversal even, of Islamic doctrine as part of Daesh’s totalist cultic methods.)

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about undue influence that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!