US President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque in Catonsville, Maryland February 3, 2016..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama responded to critics of his strategy against violent extremism at home and abroad on Tuesday, warning “sloppy” and “dangerous” rhetoric that stigmatizes Islam serves to fuel radicalization in Muslim communities.
In stark terms, Obama warned that Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, effectively represents a national security threat, after the candidate delivered a speech on Monday in which he, once again, called for a broad ban on Muslim immigration to the US.
Obama accused Trump of introducing the prospect of religious tests that fundamentally undermine American values as enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. “We’ve gone through moments before where we’ve acted out of fear, and we came to regret it.”
“If we ever abandon those values, we would not only make it a lot easier to radicalize people here and around the world, but we would have betrayed the very things we are trying to protect: The pluralism and the openness, our rule of law, our civil liberties, the very things that make our country great, the very things that make us exceptional,” Obama said. “And then the terrorists would have won, and we cannot let that happen. I will not let that happen.”
Also, one day after Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, used the term “radical Islamism” for the first time, Obama – exiting a rare meeting of his full National Security Council to discuss the Orlando massacre– chastised those harping on the term as making America more susceptible to homegrown extremism.
“It wouldn’t make us more safe – it would make us less safe, fueling ISIL’s notion that the West hates Muslims,” Obama said, referring to the Islamic State terrorist network. “There’s no magic to the phrase ‘radical Islam.’ It’s a political talking point, not a strategy.”
The president questioned whether using the phrase would have any practical benefit on the battlefields of the Middle East where Islamic State operates, or in homeland security and intelligence operations, and said that no member of his cabinet had ever suggested he use the term.
“So, someone seriously thinks that we don’t know who we are fighting?” he said. “If there is anyone out there who thinks we are confused about who our enemies are – that would come to a surprise of the thousands of terrorists we have taken out on our battlefield.”
Obama spoke flanked by his Treasury Department secretary, FBI director and attorney general. Standing to his left was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford – a figure rarely present during political speeches, leading some in the Pentagon to wonder whether he shares the president’s concerns about Trump’s statements.
“The immigration laws of the United States give the president powers to suspend entry into the country of any class of persons,” Trump said on Monday in a speech in New Hampshire. “I would use this power to protect the American people. When I’m elected, I will suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies until we fully understand how to end these threats.”
Trump’s speech was primarily a response to the events in Orlando, Florida, in which a Muslim pledged to Islamic State slaughtered 49 people and maimed 53 others in a gay nightclub.
The perpetrator was a US citizen.
Obama also called for Congress to act and renew an assault-weapons ban, that would have prevented the Orlando shooter from acquiring the most lethal tool he used in the assault. The perpetrator had been twice investigated by federal authorities for ties to terrorists.
“We have to make it harder for people who want to kill Americans to get their hands on weapons of war that let them kill dozens of innocents... Enough talking about being tough on terrorism.
Actually be tough on terrorism.”