President Obama rejected the notion today that groups like ISIS are operating from a religious foundation -- but labeled them simply as terrorists, adding that the United States is at war with those who have “perverted Islam.”
“Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders, holy warriors in defense of Islam,” Obama said at the White House. “We must never accept the premise that they put forth because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders. They are terrorists.”
“We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” the president added.
Obama’s comments came on the second day of the first ever White House summit on Countering Violent Extremism. The White House has faced some criticism over its decision to not directly tie terrorism to Islamic or Muslim extremism.
Speaking before a group of law enforcement officials and community and religious leaders, the president said terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS espouse “twisted ideologies” and stressed the need to “discredit these ideologies.”
The president noted that military action will not be the only answer to combat extremists like ISIS, but that it will take a concerted effort from communities to help prevent radicalization.
“There is no one profile of a violent extremist or terrorist. There’s no way to predict who will become radicalized,” the president said.
The president also emphasized the need to promote the spirit of diversity and inclusion in the United States and asked communities to work with Muslim Americans to help counter extremist ideologies.
“If we're gonna solve these issues, then the people who are most targeted and potentially most affected, Muslim Americans, have to have a seat at the table where they can help shape and strengthen these partnerships,” he said. “We're all working together to help communities stay safe and strong and resilient.”
President Obama highlighted the outreach efforts of ISIS and al Qaeda, noting that they have heightened their social media campaign to radicalize young people.
“The 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,” he said. “By the way, the older people here, as wise and respected as you may be, your stuff is often boring compared to what they're doing.”
“You're not connected. And as a consequence, you are not connecting,” he said.
The summit continues on Thursday when leaders from 60 countries gather at the State Department to discuss ways to combat violent extremism.