President Barack Obama said at White House summit on countering violent extremism Wednesday that the United States is “not at war with Islam” and religion is not responsible for terrorism. Obama said radical groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State -- formerly known as ISIS or ISIL -- have warped Islam into twisted ideologies.
“We must never accept the premise that they put forward because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders -- they're terrorists,” Obama said in remarks at the three-day summit. His words were followed by applause. "And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with the people who have perverted Islam."
Law enforcement, community and religious leaders attended Wednesday’s session of the three-day summit. Leaders from 60 countries will gather at the U.S. State Department Thursday to discuss ways to prevent and counter the spread of extremist ideologies that radicalize, recruit or incite to violence.
Obama said Muslim communities have a responsibility to also reject the terrorist narrative that groups like al Qaeda and ISIS use to radicalize their recruits. "Of course, the terrorists do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology. They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God represents Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism," the president said. "No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism."
Obama stressed the need to develop community outreach to recognize and disrupt the radicalization process before an individual becomes a threat to society. Local officials as well as civic and religious leaders must strengthen relationships with their communities in order to identify at-risk youth.
“We need to find new ways to amplify the voices of peace and tolerance and inclusion, and we especially need to do it online,” Obama said at the summit meeting Wednesday. “We’ve got to discredit these ideologies. We have to tackle them head-on and we can’t shy away from these discussions.”
The United States also is partnering with foreign governments, civil society and the private sector to counter violent extremist messaging, propaganda and recruitment efforts on social media, according to a White House press release on the summit.
The summit on strengthening efforts to counter violent extremism comes as the Islamic State group widens its grip beyond the Middle East and has successfully recruited and radicalized foreign citizens. More than 20,000 people from more than 100 countries have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS' ranks since the summer.
"It's not just the fact that these foreign fighters are helping to fuel the fight in Syria and Iraq; they're coming home, too," Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement after the summit meeting Wednesday. "Since then, the world has borne witness to the horrific attacks in Brussels, Peshawar, Paris, Copenhagen, Sydney, two cities in Canada, and elsewhere."
Obama remained confident Wednesday that the United States and its allies will defeat ISIS. “We will ultimately prevail,” he said at the summit meeting.