USA - TERRORISM

Idea that West is at war with Islam an ‘ugly lie’, Obama says

US President Barack Obama speaks at the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism at the State Department on February 19, 2015 in Washington, DC
US President Barack Obama speaks at the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism at the State Department on February 19, 2015 in Washington, DC AFP / Mandel Ngan

Speaking on the final day of a conference that saw ministers from more than 60 nations gather for talks on countering extremism, US President Barack Obama on Thursday called the idea that the West is at war with Islam an “ugly lie”.

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"The notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie," he told delegates at the three-day summit in Washington, D.C. "And all of us, regardless of our faith, have a responsibility to reject it."

Obama also challenged Middle Eastern powers to end the policies he said have stoked the rise of terrorist organisations such as the Islamic State group and al Qaeda.

Fighting between Sunnis and Shiites "will only end when major powers address their differences through dialogue and not through proxy wars", he said.

In Iraq and elsewhere, regional powerhouses like Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran have been accused of backing rival factions in a bid to exert influence.

In comments on the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, Obama said the governments of Syria and Iraq should bear some responsibility for the group's emergence.

"In Iraq, the failure of the previous government (of former premier Nuri al-Maliki) to govern in an inclusive manner helped to pave the way for ISIL's gains there."

Maliki's sidelining of the Sunni minority has often been cited as one reason the Islamic State group's Sunni insurgency was able to win support from many frustrated Iraqis.

Obama said religious divisions were also helping fuel the civil war and the rise of jihadism in Syria.

President Bashar al-Assad's "war against his own people and deliberate stoking of sectarian tensions help to fuel the rise of ISIL", Obama said.

‘A new war against a new enemy’

Obama was addressing a conference that has been months in the making, but took on greater significance as brutal extremist attacks targeted countries from France to Nigeria to Denmark.

Among those attending the summit was Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, where attacks by Islamist gunmen last month on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a kosher supermarket left 17 people dead along with the three attackers.

The talks were aimed at establishing ways to stop violent ideologies from taking root in vulnerable communities across the world – from the growth of Boko Haram in Nigeria to Islamic extremists in the Middle East and Asia.

While US officials have said the purpose of the meeting was to draft an action plan, it was unclear if there would be any concrete results.

Opening the final day of the summit, US Secretary of State John Kerry urged the world to "wage a new war against a new enemy”.

"We have to come together and ask, 'What's our strategy?'" Kerry said.

But Kerry acknowledged that most of the most crucial work on stopping extremists would be done quietly and "without fanfare" in classrooms, community halls and on street corners.

Writing in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal also on Thursday, Kerry emphasised that military action was only part of the battle.

"Military force alone won't achieve victory," Kerry wrote. "In the long term, this war will be won only by deploying a broader, far more creative arsenal."

"Eliminating the terrorists of today with force will not guarantee protection from the terrorists of tomorrow," he added. "We have to transform the environments that give birth to these movements."

Part of the work needed was "to identify the zones of greatest vulnerability, the places that could descend into the chaos that breeds terrorism – or that could turn the corner and be the hotbed of growth or innovation", Kerry wrote.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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