To fight extremism, Obama calls on US to embrace its Muslims

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To fight extremism, Obama calls on US to embrace its Muslims
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)
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WASHINGTON (AP) - In the fight against violent extremism, President Barack Obama has argued 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.

"If we're going to prevent people from being susceptible to the false promises of extremism, then the international community has to offer something better - and the United States intends to do its part," Obama told the summit Wednesday. He planned to speak again Thursday when delegates from about 65 countries gather for the summit's closing session at the State Department.

But 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."

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.

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.

For decades, Abdirizak Bihi has been a leader in Minneapolis' large Somali community, but his work in countering terrorist recruiting didn't take hold until his nephew, Buran Hassan, was recruited by the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group al-Shabab and was killed in Somalia in 2008. Bihi said that without a doubt Somali expatriates in the U.S. have fared better than their counterparts elsewhere in the Somali diaspora.

"We have done well - better than Europe - but we have not done as much as we ought to do," Bihi said. "We are not where we're supposed to be."

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.

But William McCants, a Brookings Institution scholar and former State Department adviser on countering violent extremism, said the Obama administration's own response has indicated it believes the Muslim-American community poses a risk.

"The effort to build up rapport with Muslims in the U.S. is predicated on the idea that you're worried about the community and you want them to trust law enforcement more and be more willing to give information about people who may be radicalizing," McCants said.

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