US President Barack Obama.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama this week defended his policy against tying Islam to the scourge of terror gripping the Middle East and world.
Speaking to a summit on countering violent extremism at the White House on Wednesday, Obama said the United States is not fighting the Islamic faith, but rather finds itself at war “with the people who have perverted Islam.”
“Religion is not responsible for violence and terrorism,” he told the conference. “People are responsible for violence and terrorism.”
At the annual National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month, the president raised eyebrows comparing the specter of the Crusades, slavery and Jim Crow to the twisted ideology of Islamic State, a group “desperate for legitimacy,” he said.
“They propagate the notion that America, and the West generally, is at war with Islam,” Obama said, explaining the policy.
“That’s how they recruit. That’s how they try to radicalize young people.”
At the same time, Obama acknowledged a “narrative” that he says is all too real across the Muslim world, often perpetuated by its leadership: “The notion that our nations are at odds with Islam, that there’s an inevitable clash of civilizations.”
The president called on leaders across the Arab world to “discredit” that narrative in which “historic grievances” against the West sometimes manifest in radicalization.
The summit, hosted by the US and attended by delegations from more than 60 nations, continued Thursday at the ministerial level at the Department of State with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, among other world leaders, scheduled to attend.
The event included break-out sessions and events with Vice President Joe Biden, US Secretary of State John Kerry and the rest of the president’s national security team.
In his keynote, the president acknowledged a significant military element would be required in a global fight against al-Qaida and Islamic State. But much of the fight also will be waged online, he said.
Explaining his view on the roots of such extremist tendencies, Obama blamed a host of factors that contribute to a “void” in the lives of youth.
“When there are no outlets where people can express their grievances, resentments fester,” he said, adding, however, that “poverty alone does not cause someone to become a terrorist any more than poverty causes someone to become a criminal.”