President Obama pauses while speaking at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, Feb. 18, 2015.
Jacquelyn Martin—AP
By Maya Rhodan
February 18, 2015

President Obama urged Americans to use a calm and steady approach to countering the violent extremism that spawns groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

In a speech on the second day of a White House summit, Obama said the best antidote to the harsh ideology peddled by ISIS is making sure that everyone feels like they have a rightful place in society.

“If extremists are peddling this notion that Western countries are hostile to Muslims, we need to show them that we are accepting of all folks,” Obama said.

To that end, Obama took pains to avoid characterizing violent extremism as solely a byproduct of Islam, noting that “no religion is responsible for violence and terrorism.” The summit was criticized by some conservatives for not focusing more on Islamic fundamentalism, but Obama argued that would only embolden groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda.

“Al-Qaeda, [ISIS] and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy,” he said. “They try to portray themselves as religious leaders and holy warriors in defense of Islam … They propagate the notion that America — and the West generally — is at war with Islam. That’s how they recruit.”

“We are not at war with Islam,” he said during the speech. “We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

The second day of the three-day summit featured community leaders from Boston, Minneapolis and Los Angeles, all of which are hosting government-led initiatives to counter extremism. A small group of activists also showed up across the street to protest “Islamophobia” and argue that Muslims are being unfairly targeted by these measures.

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