Obama: US at war with those who have perverted Islam

7 PHOTOS
video at top: Obama requests ISIS war powers
See Gallery
Obama: US at war with those who have perverted Islam
President Obama spoke at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism Wednesday giving Americans and the world an approach to fighting groups like ISIS.
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 11: U.S. President Barack Obama announces he has sent Congress an authorization for the use of military force against Islamic State with (L-R) Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the Roosevelt Room at the White House February 11, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama wants Congress to authorize a three-year military campaign against the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, that would continue the use of air power and could include limited ground operations by American forces to hunt down enemy leaders or rescue American personnel. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Smoke rises after an airstrike in the city of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as it seens from the southeastern border village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on November 5, 2014. Islamic State jihadists subjected a group of teenagers from the Syrian battleground town of Kobane to a string of abuses, including torture, during six months in captivity, Human Rights Watch said on November4, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Militants of Islamic State (IS) stand just before explosion of an air strike on Tilsehir hill near Turkish border on October 23, 2014, at Yumurtalik village, in Sanliurfa province. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that 200 Iraqi Kurd peshmerga fighters would travel through Turkey to the flashpoint Syrian border town of Kobane under assault by the Islamic State group. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 19: (TURKEY OUT) People are silhouetted on the top of a hill close to the border line between Turkey and Syria near Mursitpinar bordergate as they watch the U.S led airstrikes over ther Syrian town of Kobani on October 19, 2014. Kurdish fighters in Syrian city of Kobani have pushed back Islamic State militants in a number of locations as U.S. air strikes on ISIS positions continue in and around the city. In the past month more than 200,000 people from Kobani have fled into Turkey. (Photo by Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images)
A militant of Islamic State (IS) is seen just after an air strike on Tilsehir hill near Turkish border on October 23, 2014, at Yumurtalik village, in Sanliurfa province. Turkey said on October 21 that Kurdish peshmerga fighters based in Iraq have yet to cross into Syria from Turkish territory, a day after announcing it was assisting their transit to join the battle for the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab. It was seen as a major switch in policy by Turkey, which until now has refused to interfere in the over month-long battle for Kobane between Syrian Kurdish fighters and Islamic State (IS) jihadists. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
People gather on the site of an alleged air strike on December 20, 2014 by regime forces on the Syrian city of Raqa, which is under the control of the Islamic State group (IS) group. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime planes carried out one strike in Raqa that killed at least seven civilians. AFP PHOTO / RMC / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

WASHINGTON (AP) - Muslims in the U.S. and around the world have a responsibility to fight a misconception that terrorist groups like the Islamic State speak for them, President Barack Obama said Wednesday in his most direct remarks yet about any link between Islam and terrorism.

For weeks, the White House has sidestepped the question of whether deadly terror attacks in Paris and other Western cities amount to "Islamic extremism," wary of offending a major world religion or lending credibility to the "war on terror" that Obama's predecessor waged. But 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," Obama said. "We are at war with people who have perverted Islam."

While putting the blame on IS and similar groups - Obama said the militants 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. He said all have a duty to "speak up very clearly" in opposition to violence against innocent people.

"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.

Issuing such a direct challenge to Muslims marked a clear departure from the restrained, cautious language Obama and his aides have used to describe the situation in the past.

In the days after last month's shootings at a satirical French newspaper that had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, Obama avoided calling the attack an example of "Islamic extremism," and instead opted for the more generic "violent extremism." Recently, the White House also struggled to explain whether the U.S. believes the Afghan Taliban to be a terrorist organization.

The refusal to directly assess any Islamic role in the terrifying scenes playing out in Europe, the Mideast 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.

White House aides said they were avoiding associating the attacks with Islam for the sake of "accuracy" and to avoid lending credence to the terrorists' own justification for violence - a strict interpretation of Islam. Frustrated by what they deemed a manufactured controversy, Obama aides have argued that a focus on terminology has distracted from more fruitful conversations about what can actually be done to stop extremist ideologies from spreading.

"These are individuals who carried out an act of terrorism, and they later tried to justify that act of terrorism by invoking the religion of Islam and their own deviant view of it," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at the time.

Yet the argument over terminology has increasingly become a distraction, including this week as Obama gathered law enforcement officials, Muslim leaders and lawmakers for a three-day summit on violent extremism. In his remarks Wednesday, Obama acknowledged it was a touchy subject but insisted it was critical to tackle the issue "head-on."

"We can't shy away from these discussions," he said. "And too often, folks are understandably sensitive about addressing some of these root issues, but we have to talk about them honestly and clearly."

Still, the president took care to differentiate militant groups from the "billion Muslims who reject their ideology." He noted that IS is killing far more Muslims than non-Muslims, and he called for the world community to elevate the voices of those who "saw the truth" after being radicalized temporarily.

Obama acknowledged that many Muslims in the U.S. have a suspicion of government and police, feeling they have been unfairly targeted, that has confounded efforts to strengthen cooperation between law enforcement and Muslim communities. He effusively praised Muslims who have served the U.S. in the military or in other capacities for generations.

"Of course, that's the story extremists and terrorists don't want the world to know: Muslims succeeding and thriving in America," Obama said. "Because when that truth is known, it exposes their propaganda as the lie that it is."

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 Sept. 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."

___

AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.

More from AOL.com:
GOP's Bush noting difference with former president brother
Ukrainian president: Troops are withdrawing from Debaltseve
Italy presses UN to achieve political solution for Libya
White House puts immigration plans on hold after ruling

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.