United States President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that Muslims in the U.S. and around the world have a responsibility to fight a misconception that terrorist groups like the Islamic State (ISIS) speak for them, reports The Associated Press (AP).
For weeks, the White House has sidestepped the question of whether deadly terror attacks in Paris and other Western cities amount to "Islamic extremism," but on Wednesday, as he hosted a White House summit on countering violent extremism, the president said some in Muslim communities have bought into the notion that Islam is incompatible with tolerance and modern life.
"We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam," stressed Obama, according to AP.
While putting the blame on ISIS and similar groups and saying the terrorists masquerade as religious leaders but are really terrorists, the president also appealed directly to prominent Muslims to do more to distance themselves from brutal ideologies.
All have a duty to "speak up very clearly" in opposition to violence against innocent people, he said.
"Just as leaders like myself reject the notion that terrorists like ISIL genuinely represent Islam, Muslim leaders need to do more to discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam," Obama said, using another acronym for ISIS.
In the days after last month's shootings at the offices of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo that had caricatured the Prophet Mohammed , Obama avoided calling the attack an example of "Islamic extremism," and instead opted for the more generic "violent extremism."
He also came under fire over controversial comments during a recent interview, in which he downplayed the anti-Semitic nature of the second deadly shooting attack at a kosher supermarket in Paris.
"It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you've got a bunch of violent vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris," Obama said in that interview.
It was only several days later that White House spokesman Josh Earnest clarified in a tweet that Washington does indeed view the attack on the kosher supermarket as an anti-Semitic attack. He had earlier made things worse by failing to properly explain what the president had meant.
AP notes that the refusal to directly assess any Islamic role in the terrifying scenes playing out in Europe, the Middle East and Africa has drawn criticism from those who say Obama has prioritized political correctness over a frank acknowledgement of reality.
National security hawks, in particular, argued that Obama's counterterrorism strategy couldn't possibly be successful if the president was unable or unwilling to confront the true nature of the threat.
Obama has long tried to shift his administration's terror rhetoric away from what he saw as the hyperbolic terminology used by his predecessor, George W. Bush, particularly Bush's declaration in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks that the U.S. was engaged in a "war on terror."
In a high-profile national security address in 2013, Obama declared, "We must define our effort not as a boundless 'global war on terror,' but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America."