The Cable

Obama: Terror, Not Islam, Is the Enemy

After months of delays and weeks of controversy, President Obama finally got to tell officials from around the world that terror, not Islam, is the enemy of the United States.

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After months of delays and weeks of internal and external discord surrounding the White House’s Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, President Barack Obama finally got to tell officials from more than 60 countries that terrorism, not Islam, is the enemy.

“We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” Obama said Wednesday, the second day of the summit. He later called on Muslim leaders “to do more to discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam.”

Obama’s sentiments were welcomed by the audience, which politely applauded throughout his speech. But they did little to overshadow the controversy surrounding the buildup to the summit or the fact that not much is expected from the three-day event.

The White House has taken heat from all sides in the run-up to the summit. Within the administration there was discord because the White House waited until Jan. 11 to tell the State Department it would be participating. Muslim leaders criticized the White House for focusing narrowly on threats from Islamists. Meanwhile, Republicans blasted the administration for approaching the threat too broadly and called on it to focus on threats from Muslim extremists.

Obama’s speech appeared to reflect concerns from Muslim leaders as opposed to the GOP. He made a clear effort to separate Islam the religion from the threat posed by terrorists acting in the name of Mohammed.

“They try to portray themselves as religious leaders, holy warriors in defense of Islam,” he said. “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 are terrorists.”

The president also tried to quell the controversy sparked by State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, who became a target of conservatives when she said that jobs would prevent Muslims from becoming terrorists.

“We all know there is no one profile of a violent extremist or terrorist. There is no way to predict who will become radicalized,” Obama said. “We are here at this summit because of the urgent threat from groups like al Qaeda and ISIL and this week, we are focused on prevention.”

The summit continues Thursday with meetings between foreign and Obama administration officials, law enforcement, and other stakeholders at the State Department. It remains to be seen what, if anything, will be delivered when it closes tomorrow.

Photo Credit: Jim Watson

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