WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama has warned Americans not to depict the fight against terrorism as a war between Islam and America as doing so would harm both.

In his address to the American nation on Sunday night, President Obama also urged Muslim leaders to work with the rest of the world to decisively defeat the ideology of terror.

“This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse,” he said.

Know more: Obama tells Americans to start listening to Muslims

“Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL (Islamic State militant group) and Al Qaeda promote.”

Speaking four days after a Pakistani-origin couple shot dead 14 people in San Bernardino, California, Mr Obama used his rare Oval Office address – only third in eight years – to appeal for patience and national unity.

Muslims across America fear a strong backlash as some politicians continue to blame the Muslim community and their faith for recent attacks on Western targets.

The administration fears that whipping up anti-Muslim feelings could derail the fight against terrorism and Mr Obama used his speech to emphasise the point.

“We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam,” he said.

“That, too, is what groups like IS want. IS does not speak for Islam.”

He reminded Americans that extremists “account for a tiny fraction” of more than a billion Muslims around the world. He also noted that there were millions of patriotic Muslims in America who also reject the “hateful ideology” of groups like IS and Al Qaeda.

The extremists “are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death,” said the US president while pointing out that the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world were Muslim.

“If we are to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate,” he said.

Mr Obama clarified that in doing so, he was denying the fact that an extremist ideology had spread within some Muslim communities and it was their duty to stop this rot.

He urged Muslim leaders across the world “to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity”.

But he also urged his nation not to use terrorist attacks to justify discrimination against Muslims.

“Just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalisation, it is the responsibility of all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination,” he said.

“It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It is our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose,” Mr Obama said.

Since the Paris terror attacks last month, several Republican leaders have suggested to check an applicant’s religion before allowing him or her to enter the United States. Others also suggested creating a separate database for Muslims living in America to monitor their activities.

“That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like IS. Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbours, our co-workers, our sports heroes,” Mr Obama said.

“And, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defence of our country. We have to remember that,” he added President Obama also used the address to underline the measures his administration has taken to defeat Islamic State terrorists: Sending Special Operations forces to Iraq and Syria; launching air strikes on the tankers the extremists use for smuggling oil; and Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to halt the civil war in Syria.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2015

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