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Obama: 'We Are Not at War With Islam'


President Barack Obama speaks in Washington at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, Feb. 18, 2015.

President Barack Obama speaks in Washington at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, Feb. 18, 2015.

President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged civic and religious leaders around the world to unite in the fight against the "false promises of extremism" and to reject the notion that "terrorist" groups represent Islam.

"They try to portray themselves as religious leaders, holy warriors," Obama said at a Washington conference on countering radicalism. "They are not religious leaders, they are terrorists. We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

Obama told delegates at the three-day conference that the fight against extremism could not be won with military might alone. He had offered similar thoughts in an opinion piece published in the Los Angeles Times.

"We know that military force alone cannot solve this problem," Obama wrote. "Nor can we simply take out terrorists who kill innocent civilians. We also have to confront the violent extremists — the propagandists, recruiters and enablers — who may not directly engage in terrorist acts themselves, but who radicalize, recruit and incite others to do so."

The summit comes as the United States and its allies are struggling with the rapid, bloody rise of the extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and recent terrorist attacks in Australia, Canada, France and Denmark.

Obama said groups like Islamic State and al-Qaida "exploit the anger that festers when people feel that injustice and corruption leave them with no chance of improving their lives. The world has to offer today's youth something better."

The Obama administration has been careful not to put the focus of this week's summit solely on Islamic extremism, but on all forms of extremism, a strategy that has drawn criticism from conservative Republicans.

Officials from 60 countries, as well as spiritual and law enforcement leaders from across the United States, are attending the White House summit. Among them is Alexander Bortnikov, director of Russia's Federal Security Service.

Imam Sheikh Sa'ad Musse Roble of Minneapolis holds up a card from the World Peace Organization as he listens to President Barack Obama during his speech before the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, Feb. 18, 2015.

Imam Sheikh Sa'ad Musse Roble of Minneapolis holds up a card from the World Peace Organization as he listens to President Barack Obama during his speech before the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, Feb. 18, 2015.

Vice President Joe Biden opened the gathering Tuesday by touting the success of youth outreach programs in three big U.S. cities — Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis, each with large immigrant populations.

"Societies have to provide an affirmative alternative for immigrant communities, a sense of opportunity, a sense of belonging that discredits the terrorist's appeal to fear, isolation, hatred, resentment," Biden said.

The vice president said he believes the United States has had a lot more experience in integrating minority youths into society than European nations have.

Some material for this report came from AP and AFP.

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