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Obama: 'Ugly Lie' That West Is at War With Islam

World Powers Broadening Efforts to Fight Extremists
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Watch video report from VOA's Pam Dockins.

U.S. President Barack Obama declared Thursday that any contention by terrorist groups that Western nations are fighting a war against Islam is an "ugly lie."

In a wide-ranging speech at a White House-sponsored anti-terrorism summit in Washington, Obama vowed a relentless fight against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups. He rejected the idea that mostly Christian and Jewish Western nations are waging a war on Muslims.

"The notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie," he said. "And all of us, regardless of our faith, have a responsibility to reject it."

Obama said the world's governments and cultures must look to end sectarian conflicts, including Sunnis against Shi'ites in the Muslim world. In addition, he said world leaders must help people escape poverty and oppression, which he said are breeding grounds for terrorist recruitment efforts.

"Nations need to break the cycles of conflict, especially sectarian conflicts that have become magnets for violent extremism. We must address the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances," he said.

"When people are oppressed and human rights are denied, particularly along sectarian lines or ethnic lines, when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism," Obama said. "When peaceful democratic change is impossible, it feeds into the terrorists’ propaganda that violence is the only answer available.”

'Confront warped ideology'

Obama urged summit delegates to "confront the warped ideology" espoused by terror groups, particularly efforts to use Islam to justify violence.

"These terrorists are desperate for legitimacy and all us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorist narrative,'' Obama said, using an acronym to refer to the Islamic State group.

Obama spoke after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism being held at the U.S. State Department.

Ban called the violent actions of the Islamic State group and Boko Haram "a grave threat to international peace and security," but he said governments around the world are often to blame for fostering the appeal of the terrorist groups to the downtrodden.

"Oppression, corruption and injustice are greenhouses for resentment," he said.

Ban told officials from more than 60 countries that "preventing violent extremism and promoting human rights go hand in hand" but that the fight against terrorism cannot be used a way to silence critics of individual leaders.

"We will never find our ways by discarding our moral compass," he said.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh called on governments to reach out, especially to young people who are often the target of recruitment efforts by terrorists.

"It is all about education, education, education. Opportunity, opportunity, opportunity. Empowerment, empowerment, empowerment," Judeh said.

Concluding the summit, Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, called for governments to work more closely with civil society and tap the talents of those she said would otherwise be left on the sidelines.

That includes, she said, "women and girls, who are some of the most effective voices in countering violent extremism. Who is better than a mother to spot unusual behavior in her child and intervene?"

Officials from around the globe, as well as spiritual leaders and police officials from throughout the United States, attended the summit. U.S. officials said the goal of the gathering was to come up with strategies based on facts and realities that nations can implement together to end violent extremism.

In the end, the meeting produced few concrete proposals to get at the underlying causes of what is driving young Americans and others to join violent extremist groups.

Officials said that effort would take years, and they plan more meetings, along with a broad discussion of the subject at the U.N. General Assembly in September.

Challenge of 21st century

Earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry wrote in an op-ed article published by The Wall Street Journal that violent extremism represents the biggest challenge in the 21st century and success in fighting it requires “showing the world the power of peaceful communities."

Kerry wrote: “Success requires showing the world the power of peaceful communities instead of extremist violence. Success requires offering a vision that is positive and proactive: a world with more concrete alternatives to the nihilistic worldview of violent extremists.

“Success requires empowering leaders from Los Angeles to Lagos, Paris to Peshawar, and Bogotá to Baghdad to take the reins in this effort -- because terrorists don’t exist in a vacuum,” he wrote.

During an address Wednesday before a group of community and religious leaders, Obama called on them to help fight "false promises of extremism" and reject the notion that "terrorist" groups represent Islam.

The Obama administration was careful not to put the focus of this week's summit solely on Islamic extremism, but on all forms of extremism.

"They try to portray themselves as religious leaders, holy warriors," Obama said Wednesday at the White House. "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.”

He also appealed directly to prominent Muslims to do more to distance themselves from brutal ideologies.

The president told leaders that the fight against extremism could not be won with military might alone.

Extremism on the rise

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."

Mary Alice Salinas contributed to this report from the State Department. Luis Ramirez contributed to this report from the White House. Some material for this report came from AFP and AP.