Speaking at the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism being held at the U.S. State Department to discuss globalized terrorism, President Barack Obama categorically rejected the idea that Islam is at war with the West, saying it is an "ugly lie." "The notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie," he said. "And all of us, regardless of our faith, have a responsibility to reject it." Officials from more than sixty countries participated.
Obama said that governments and cultures around the world must seek to stem inter-religious conflicts, including the fractious relations between Muslims themselves. The Islamic State, for instance, is Sunni Muslim in orientation and has persecuted not only Christians, but also Shiite Muslims. By introducing anti-poverty programs, said the president, the breeding grounds for terrorist recruitment would be allayed. "Nations need to break the cycles of conflict, especially sectarian conflicts that have become magnets for violent extremism. We must address the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances," he said.
"When people are oppressed and human rights are denied, particularly along sectarian lines or ethnic lines, when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism," Obama said. "When peaceful democratic change is impossible, it feeds into the terrorists’ propaganda that violence is the only answer available.”
The Chief Executive appeared to suggest that Muslim leaders should improve on their media outreach and public relations techniques. “By the way, [to] 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.” Referring to the successful videos depicting hirsute jihadi combatants, military triumphs and beheadings that are used by the Islamic State to recruit young Muslims in the West, Obama said "That's the truth. 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.”
The delegates to the White House summit were called on by Obama to "confront the warped ideology" advocated by terrorists, especially those citing Islam as a guiding principle. "These terrorists are desperate for legitimacy and all us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorist narrative,'' Obama said. Obama has consistently used the ISIL acronym in preference to calling it “Islamic State.”
On hand at the summit was UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who referred to the Islamic State and Boko Haram – a violent Nigerian Muslim sect – as "a grave threat to international peace and security." Seconding Obama’s contention that social issues breed terrorism, the UN official said "Oppression, corruption and injustice are greenhouses for resentment." Ki-moon said "preventing violent extremism and promoting human rights go hand in hand" but added that fighting terrorism should not come at the cost of “discarding our moral compass."
Also speaking to the conference was Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh called on governments to dissuade young people from succumbing to terrorist recruitment efforts. "It is all about education, education, education. Opportunity, opportunity, opportunity. Empowerment, empowerment, empowerment," Judeh said.
On Feb. 16, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf defended the White House approach to terrorism. "We're killing a lot of them, and we're going to keep killing more of them. ... But we cannot win this war by killing them," she told MSNBC's "Hardball" host Chris Matthews. "We need ... to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it's lack of opportunity for jobs, whether --" said Harf when Chris Matthews retorted, "There's always going to be poor people. There's always going to be poor Muslims." For her part, Harf argued that the U.S should continue to aid countries to "help improve their governance" and "help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people."
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