Obama says World must fight 'false promises' of extremism
WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
U.S. President Barack Obama arrives to address the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism in Washington, February 18, 2015. REUTERS Photo.US President Barack Obama on Feb. 18 urged Western and Muslim leaders to unite to defeat the "false promises of extremism" and reject jihadists' claims to represent Islam.
"The terrorists do not speak for a billion Muslims," Obama told delegates from 60 countries at a White House summit on countering radicalism.
"They try to portray themselves as religious leaders, holy warriors," he said. "They are not religious leaders, they are terrorists."
In the wake of brutal jihadist attacks in Europe and the Middle East, Obama said more must be done to prevent groups like Islamic State and Al-Qaeda from recruiting and radicalizing.
The battle, he said, was as much for hearts and minds as one waged by the military on the ground and in the air.
The "ideologies, the infrastructure of extremists, the propagandists, the recruiters, the funders who radicalize and recruit or incite people to violence," must be tackled.
He challenged critics at home and moderate governments abroad to undercut the jihadist narrative that there is a "clash of civilizations" between an anti-Muslim west and a radicalized Middle East.
Domestically Obama has been pilloried for not describing the attacks in Denmark, France, Syria and Libya as the work of "Islamic radicals."
He choose to face down the critics Wednesday saying "we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam."
"Those of us outside Muslim communities need to reject the terrorist narrative that the West and Islam are in conflict or modern life and Islam are in conflict," Obama said.
He spoke emotionally about a Valentine's card he received from an 11-year-old Muslim American called Sabrina.
"'I am worried about people hating Muslims,'" she wrote "'please tell everyone that we are good people and we're just like everyone else.'"
Obama insisted "Muslim communities have a responsibility as well" to fight groups "desperate for legitimacy."
Al-Qaeda and Islamic State "do draw selectively from the Islamic texts," he said. "They do depend upon the misperception around the world that they speak in some fashion for people of the Muslim faith."
"Muslim leaders need to do more to discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam."
Communities in the United States and abroad must do their part, he said.
"We have to be honest with ourselves. Terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIL (Islamic State) deliberately target their propaganda in the hopes of reaching and brainwashing young Muslims." They do so through "high-quality videos, the online magazines, the use of social media, terrorists Twitter accounts -- it's all designed to target today's young people online in cyberspace."
The summit has been in the pipeline for months, but has been given deeper significance after several similarly inspired attacks, including on a cultural center and on a synagogue in Copenhagen which left two people dead at the weekend.
Among those attending is Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, where attacks by Islamist gunmen on the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly magazine and a kosher supermarket left 17 people dead.
On Sunday, a video emerged apparently showing Islamic State jihadists beheading 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya.
Sessions on Wednesday highlighted existing anti-extremist programs in Boston, Minneapolis-Saint Paul and greater Los Angeles, which involve community policing and other tactics.
There appeared to be little in the way of concrete outcomes from the summit, although the US State Department announced the appointment of a special counter-terrorism communications coordinator.
The United States will also join with the United Arab Emirates "to establish a digital communications hub that will counter ISIL's (Islamic State's) propaganda and recruitment efforts."