Obama: US at war with those who perverted Islam
Muslims in the U.S. and around the world have a responsibility to fight a misconception that terrorist groups like the Islamic State speak for them, President Barack Obama said Wednesday in his most direct remarks yet about any link between Islam and terrorism.
For weeks, the White House has sidestepped the question of whether deadly terror attacks in Paris and other Western cities amount to “Islamic extremism,” wary of offending a major world religion or lending credibility to the “war on terror” that Obama’s predecessor waged.
But as he hosted a White House summit on countering violent extremism, the president said some in Muslim communities have bought into the notion that Islam is incompatible with tolerance and modern life.
“We are not at war with Islam,” Obama said. “We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”
While putting the blame on IS and similar groups — Obama said the militants masquerade as religious leaders but are really terrorists — the president also appealed directly to prominent Muslims to do more to distance themselves from brutal ideologies.
He said all have a duty to “speak up very clearly” in opposition to violence against innocent people.
“Just as leaders like myself reject the notion that terrorists like ISIL genuinely represent Islam, Muslim leaders need to do more to discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam,” Obama said.
Issuing such a direct challenge to Muslims marked a clear departure from the restrained, cautious language Obama and his aides have used to describe the situation in the past.
In the days after last month’s shootings at a satirical French newspaper that had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, Obama avoided calling the attack an example of “Islamic extremism,” and instead opted for the more generic “violent extremism.”
Recently, the White House also struggled to explain whether the U.S. believes the Afghan Taliban to be a terrorist organization.
The refusal to directly assess any Islamic role in the terrifying scenes playing out in Europe, the Mideast and Africa has drawn criticism from those who say Obama has prioritized political correctness over a frank acknowledgement of reality.
National security hawks, in particular, argued that Obama’s counterterrorism strategy couldn’t possibly be successful if the president was unable or unwilling to confront the true nature of the threat.
White House aides said they were avoiding associating the attacks with Islam for the sake of “accuracy” and to avoid lending credence to the terrorists’ own justification for violence — a strict interpretation of Islam.
Frustrated by what they deemed a manufactured controversy, Obama aides have argued that a focus on terminology has distracted from more fruitful conversations about what can actually be done to stop extremist ideologies from spreading.
JOSH LEDERMAN Associated Press WASHINGTON