WHITE HOUSE —
President Barack Obama says the United States is not at war with Islam. The U.S. leader told a White House summit on combating violent extremism he wants to discredit the belief that Americans and Westerners in general are at odds with Muslims. He said this narrative helps extremists radicalize and recruit young Americans and others.
Until now, the United States has focused on its military fight against Islamic militants. Now, President Obama said, it’s time to get at the ideological aspect, and what causes young people to become vulnerable to radicalization.
After being criticized for not mentioning the word “Islamic” when referring to extremists, he called for confronting the threat squarely and honestly.
“We are not at war with Islam,” he said.
Americans have been horrified by images of atrocities committed by Islamic State extremists, some of whom have been recruited from America’s Muslim immigrant communities in cities like Minneapolis, home to a large Somali population.
It is in communities like these that grievances over discrimination, poverty, lack of education, and corruption, make it easy for terrorists to exploit young people, often through social media.
President Obama brought together religious leaders, police, and others at the White House summit Wednesday to tackle the root causes.
“If we’re going address the challenge of their efforts to recruit our young people, if we’re going to lift up the voices of tolerance and pluralism within the Muslim community, then we’ve got to acknowledge that their job is made harder by a broader narrative that does exist in many Muslim communities around the world that suggests the West is at odds with Islam in some fashion,” said Obama.
The aim is to come up with programs that will change this perception on the streets. In the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, pilot programs are already under way with the input of moderate Muslim religious leaders, including some attending the summit.
“We believe in the right of all people to live in peace and security. Muslim imams have condemned and continued to denounce anyone who tries to use the religion of Islam to support terrorism,” said Abdisalam Adam, a Minneapolis imam.
After discussions like these, the question is whether government programs will succeed in steering vulnerable young people toward those who espouse a moderate view of Islam, and help negate the lure of extremists.