Muslim leaders ‘must challenge IS’


Published: Thursday 19th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Muslim communities need to do more to counter the “twisted” ideology used by Islamic State (IS) and al Qaida to recruit and radicalise would-be terrorists, Barack Obama has said.

At an international conference on combating violent extremism, the US president said the propaganda put out by the groups, including on social media, had to be challenged by clerics and leaders representing the overwhelming majority of Muslims.

Mr Obama said: “As we go forward we need to find new ways to amplify the voices of peace and tolerance and inclusion, and we especially need to do it online.”

He said more needed to be done to tackle the notion that Islam and the West were engaged in a “clash of civilisations”.

Home Secretary Theresa May was among those attending the international conference on tackling violent extremism, which comes days after two people were killed by a suspected Islamist extremist in the Danish capital Copenhagen, and the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by IS militants in Libya.

Mrs May’s visit to Washington follows Prime Minister David Cameron’s talks with the president last month, at which they agreed to share expertise on preventing radicalism and combating the issue.

The White House has been criticised in the US press for refusing to use the term “Islamic extremism” in the run-up to the summit and Mr Obama said he did not want to give terrorist groups like IS – also known as Isil – religious legitimacy, insisting “we are not at war with Islam, we are at war with people who have perverted Islam”.

He said: “Just as those of us outside Muslim communities need to reject the terrorists’ narrative that the West and Islam are in conflict, or modern life and Islam are in conflict; I also believe that Muslim communities have a responsibility as well.

“Al Qaida and Isil do draw selectively from the Islamic texts. They do depend upon the misperception around the world that they speak in some fashion for people of the Muslim faith, that Islam is somehow inherently violent, that there is some form of clash of civilisations.

“Of course the terrorists do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology, they no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God represents Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism.

“No religion is responsible for terrorism, people are responsible for violence and terrorism.

“And to their credit there are respected Muslim clerics and scholars, not just here in the United States but around the world, who push back this twisted interpretation of their faith.”

But he said “their job is made harder by a broader narrative that does exist in many Muslim communities around the world that suggests the West is at odds with Islam in some fashion”.

He said: “The reality, which many Muslim leaders have spoken to, is that there is a strain of thought that doesn’t embrace Isil’s tactics, doesn’t embrace violence, but does buy in to the notion that the Muslim world has suffered historic grievances, sometimes that’s accurate.

“Does buy in to the belief that so many of the ills of the Middle East flow from a history of colonialism or conspiracy, does buy in to the idea that Islam is incompatible with modernity or tolerance or that it has been polluted by Western values.

“Those beliefs exist, in some communities around the world they are widespread and so it makes individuals – especially young people who already may be disaffected or alienated – more ripe for radicalisation.

“So we have got to be able to talk honestly about those issues. We have got to be much more clear about how we are rejecting certain ideas.

“So 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, that there is an inherent clash of civilisations.

“Everybody has to speak up very clearly that, no matter what the grievance, violence against innocents doesn’t defend Islam or Muslims, it damages Islam and Muslims.”

Along with measures to counter the terrorists’ ideology, Mr Obama highlighted the need for economic and political reform to help tackle some of the factors that made young people more susceptible to falling in with the extremists.

Mrs May said recent “shocking” attacks in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia underscored the fact that extremism in a “global problem”.

She added: “This summit provides a good opportunity to discuss with international partners the shared challenges we face and learn from the experiences of individual countries.

“In the UK we are already taking action to identify and confront extremism through the Prevent programme.

“Terrorists and extremists use a range of methods, including social media, to promote their twisted ideology and we need to be equally able to counter and defeat their warped narrative.

“Coming together at events such as this can only help inform our ongoing work, including the development of our new extremism strategy to confront and defeat extremism in all its forms.”

Mr Obama is due to address guests including Mrs May and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the state department today.

The conference is expected to produce an action plan leading up to a second meeting ahead of the opening of the UN General Assembly in September.

Published: Thursday 19th February 2015 by The News Editor

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