President Obama, much to the chagrin of Republicans and others, has avoided rhetorically tying the actions of the Islamic State to radical Islam, or Islamic extremists. In a speech Wednesday at a White House Summit on combating violent extremism, he laid out why.
Islamic State fighters “are not religious leaders, they are terrorists,” Obama said. “And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”
“No religion is responsible for terrorism,” he said. “People are responsible for violence and terrorism.”
Obama also emphasized the importance of targeting propaganda efforts by the Islamic State.
“Terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIL deliberately target their propaganda in the hopes of reaching and brainwashing young Muslims, especially those who may be disillusioned or wrestling with their identity. That’s the truth,” Obama said.
Back at home, the president stressed the need to protect Muslim American communities and tackle the stereotypes that surface with the faith.
“So in our work, we have to make sure that abuses stop, are not repeated, that we do not stigmatize entire communities,” Obama said. “Nobody should be profiled under a cloud of suspicion simply because of their faith.”
The White House has been making a similar argument in light of increasing criticism of how the president speaks. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest asserted Wednesday that the choice to avoid associating the Islamic State with religion was made to prevent opportunity for recruitment, even citing Osama bin Laden.
“There is evidence that Osama bin Laden was frustrated that al Qaeda was being recognized and acknowledged and thought not as a religious organization, but as a terrorist group,” Earnest said. “He even contemplated in the writings changing the name of al Qaeda to try to more closely identify it with Islam. He felt like that would be helpful to the recruiting efforts.”
Obama only briefly mentioned plans for military force against the Islamic State.
“There will be a military component to this.” Obama said . “These are savage cruelties going on out there that have to be stopped.”
The White House formally requested permission to use military force in a draft resolution to Congress this month.