Obama aims to show Islam, Western communities can coexist

President Barack Obama speaks at the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Summit, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015, at the State Department in Washington. The White House is conveying a three-day summit to bring together local, federal, and international leaders to discuss steps the US and its partners can take to develop community-oriented approaches to counter extremist ideologies that radicalize, recruit and incite to violence. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the fight against violent extremism, President Barack Obama argues the U.S. has one thing going for it that Europe doesn’t: a long tradition of warmly embracing its immigrants, including Muslims.

With the Islamic State group spreading and terrorists gaining strength in the Mideast and Africa, Obama has sought to use this week’s White House summit on violent extremism to urge the world to broaden its response far beyond military interventions. U.S. airstrikes have managed to blunt some of the militants’ gains in Iraq and Syria, but they don’t address the extreme ideologies that underpin deadly groups such as IS, al-Shabab and Boko Haram.

During the summit’s closing session Thursday at the State Department, Obama urged delegates from 65 countries to “confront the warped ideology” espoused by terror groups, particularly efforts to use Islam to justify violence.

“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, using an acronym to refer to the Islamic State.

The president urged Arab nations in particular to take steps to quell sectarian violence and boost economic and educational opportunities that could provide young people in particular options beyond joining terror groups.

But even in the U.S., not all Muslim-Americans feel like full members of American society, and security experts warned against assuming that the U.S. is impervious to those who seek to recruit and radicalize.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. has largely been spared the terrorist assaults that have hit cities in Denmark, Belgium and France, growing out of radical interpretations of Islam. In the weeks since the Charlie Hebdo newspaper shootings in Paris, Obama and other U.S. figures have portrayed the U.S. as being at a lower risk. After all, America is known as the “Great Melting Pot,” where minorities of all stripes are made to feel at home.

“In the U.S., you can be 100 percent American and 100 percent anything else. In Europe, you have to reduce the percentage of anything else to be more European,” said Ahmed Younis, a prominent Muslim-American leader participating in the summit. “People burn and destroy what they perceive to not be their own. They do not burn and destroy what they perceive to own.”

Speaking Thursday morning, Secretary of State John Kerry told participants: “There’s been a silly debate in the media in the last days about what you have to do. You have to do everything. You have to take the people off the battlefield, who are there today.”

“But you’re kind of stupid if all you do is do that and you don’t prevent more people from going to the battlefield,” he said.

Ample evidence suggests that Muslims in America do feel more integrated into society than those living in Europe. Often marginalized and relegated to poorer neighborhoods in European cities, many Muslim immigrants to the U.S. have flourished as doctors and scientists and in other white-collar professions. Middle-class, predominantly Muslim or Arab-American enclaves have cropped up in places such as Dearborn, Michigan, and Minneapolis, allowing immigrants to carve out their own stories.

“That’s the story extremists and terrorists don’t want the world to know: Muslims succeeding and thriving in America,” Obama said during separate remarks at the summit Wednesday.

There’s also reason to believe that sense of successful assimilation has offered a degree of protection against the allure of extremism. In 2011, a Pew Research Center survey of American Muslims found that just 2 in 10 Muslims in the U.S. thought there was a great deal or a fair amount of support for extremism among Muslim Americans. Roughly 80 percent said suicide bombings and other violence against civilians was never justified to defend Islam from its enemies, compared to just 8 percent who said it was sometimes or often justified.

Europe, where many Muslims or their ancestors emigrated from former colonies, is host to a much larger Muslim population. There were about 1,350,000 self-identified Muslims in the U.S. in 2008, the last date for which Census data is available. France, by comparison, has an estimated 5 million Muslims — about 8 percent of the total population. In the U.K., 2011 census data counted about 2.7 million Muslims out of a population of 63.1 million.

But within America’s smaller Muslim population, not everyone feels they’ve been fully embraced by society.

Jamila Nasser, a high school junior, said she rarely sees good news about Muslims in the American media. She doesn’t expect a positive reception once she ventures outside of Dearborn, which has elected Arabs and Muslims to many local offices and has one of the largest concentrations of Muslims in North America.

“For being a Muslim American growing up in America, I really don’t feel a part of it,” she said.

As Islamic State militants have seized control of a major swath of Iraq and Syria, the global community has taken alarm at how alluring the group’s brutal ideology has proven for individuals outside the Middle East. U.S. officials have said roughly 20,000 volunteers from around the world have joined IS or other extremist groups fighting in Syria. Of those, about 150 are believed to be Americans, according to the National Counterterrorism Center.

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Associated Press writers Emily Swanson and Jesse Holland in Washington, Jeff Karoub in Detroit, Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis, Lori Hinnant in Paris and Greg Katz in London contributed to this report.

5 thoughts on “Obama aims to show Islam, Western communities can coexist

  1. The problem is that the extremist do not want to embrace us. But want to erase us from society all together. And unless we admit to this ideology the war on terror will continue to grow. The ones who practice the religion in a peaceful manner with peace in their hearts wont stand up to the extremist for fear of retribution. And so here lies the crooks of the matter.
    I pray for my country and its elected officials, may they’re eyes be open to the truth. I pray for all our military may the Good Lord give each of them peace, protection and courage to fight the good fight. I pray for us all to be diligently seeking the Lord, be aware of the times, be prepared for what’s coming. Always with the Lord in our hearts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
    A better world is coming — we just have to endure this one just a little longer till prophecy is fulfilled and everyone is aware of God’s saving grace, And chooses which side to be in. The battle is between good and evil. Do all you can to be on the right side of heaven. God bless.
    Thank you Gordon.

  2. I found this article very interesting and confirming what I wrote about the day before. That world leaders are twisting the truth about Islam. That even president Obama is a Muslim, and is saying that these extremists are not part of Islam.

  3. Indeed, they abide by the Koran. This book is of war not of love.
    And the Pope is to visit the White House, this year…thought to ponder…

  4. The leader of my country is an embarrassing jihadist! I am apologizing for my country to the rest of the world and especially Israel! He doesn’t know what he is doing, as a country, we are totally lost and without our Lord and Saviour! We have rejected Yashua for the last 80 years. London Kentucky supports Israel and we, though a very small town, we love Gods people and are behind them whole-heartedly! Please,please do not think that THIS is America, do not believe that everyone thinks on the same infant-education level that our leaders do! May God Bless everyone and may you bless Israel!!!! Shalom

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