In the wake of the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, AUA Director’s Ben Orbach wrote this piece for The Hill about the importance of protecting equal rights for all Americans and keeping government out of the business of religious reformation while we counter the threats posed by ISIS and al Qaeda. If you have a chance, take a look at the comments to Ben’s essay. They are a reminder of why we each need to contribute to the work of building mutual understanding. Those comments are just a sample of the sentiment that is out there and further evidence as to why it is so important that our unofficial ambassadors share their experiences, through words and photos and perhaps most importantly, through their community presentations.
A week after the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, pundits are still hammering away at President Obama for his choice of words in describing the threats we face from extremist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al Qaeda. Calling this particular threat by an Islamic name might gratify those who believe we are engaged in a clash of civilizations, but doing so would undermine our efforts to defeat these groups.
Sitting in the audience last Wednesday, I appreciated how the president articulated this conflict, what we need to do and what his administration is actually capable of accomplishing. This speech was not an exercise in political correctness or a head-in-the-sand example of naivete. It was an accurate assessment of the complex challenge that we face. The president strategically identified that there are specific roles government can and cannot play in this war with ISIS and al Qaeda.
Obama does not want to refer to ISIS or al Qaeda in religious terms because he believes that would grant recognition to their claims of representing Islam. He explained, “They are not religious leaders — they are terrorists. And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”
In no way, though, did the president shy away from this threat’s religious claims and origins, nor did he absolve the individuals most threatened by ISIS and al Qaeda of their responsibility to join in this shared struggle. The president called on Muslim leaders — in the room, across America and around the world — to confront extremists and their ideas. Selectively quoted texts from the Koran may not be representative of the religion, but, as Obama asserted, it is the role of religious leaders to “push back on this twisted interpretation of their faith.”