U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism at the State Department in Washington February 19, 2015. (Reuters / Joshua Roberts)
The world must reject the notion that the United States and its western allies are at war with Islam, President Barack Obama has said, putting the blame for extremism in the Middle East on economic conditions, political grievances and propaganda.
Mirroring remarks made by his administration throughout the three-day Summit on Countering Violent Extremism held in Washington, DC this week, President Obama said during an address at State Department headquarters Thursday morning that the international community should come together to prevent differences in religion and other factors from further breeding extremism, specifically those exhibited by the militant organization that calls itself the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS, or ISIL), both regionally and across the globe.
Referring to sectarian conflicts as “magnets for violent extremism,” Obama said the world at large must renounce propaganda that has perpetuated the ideology that the US and the West wholly embrace anti-Muslim sentiments, the likes of which is believed to be a driving factor in recruiting new members to IS and similar terrorist organizations opposed to America and its allies.
“The notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie. And all of us, regardless of our faith, have a responsibility to reject it,” the president said, mirroring remarks that the White House has increasingly gone on the record to say in the wake of other apparent religious-based attacks, both in the US and abroad.
“We must acknowledge that groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIL are deliberately targeting their propaganda to Muslim communities,” Obama said. “Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics, therefore have a responsibility to push back.”
Yet as the Middle East and North African continues to strive for economic stability, Obama said, poverty has also played a pivotal role with regards to breeding extremism, especially in modern day Iraq following years of devastating war.
“We must address the grievances that terrorist exploit, including economic grievances,” Obama said.
Although billions of people in the region are peaceful and tolerant, he said “instability and disorder” has without a doubt fueled the efforts of extremist groups when it comes to recruiting new members.
“When people, especially young people, feel entirely trapped in impoverished communities, where there is no order and no path for advancement, where there are no educational opportunities,” then they are more inclined to express an interest in participating in a group like the supposed Islamic State, Obama said.
At the same time, Obama said that religious differences, not between the West and the world, but rather within communities in the Middle East and North Africa, are breeding terrorist organizations. Singling out IS, Obama blamed Syria’s embattled President Bashar Al-Assad and governmental instability in neighboring Iraq for the rise in violent extremism that has made that group among the most feared in the world.
Earlier this month, the White House asked Congress to approve a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force which, if accepted, would grant the US new powers in its fight against IS.
Thousands of military advisors and personnel have already arrived in the region amidst the anti-IS campaign, which continues with the support of dozens of coalition partners in the region.
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