President Obama explained in an interview aired Sunday his viewpoint on the war against radical Islam not being a war against radical Islam.
Obama was posed the question about the terminology by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on his trip to India last week.
“You know, I think that the way to understand this is there is an element growing out of Muslim communities in certain parts of the world that have perverted the religion, have embraced a nihilistic, violent, almost medieval interpretation of Islam. And they are doing damage in a lot of countries around the world,” Obama said.
“But it is absolutely true that I reject a notion that somehow that creates a religious war because the overwhelming majority of Muslims reject that interpretation of Islam. They don’t even recognize it as being Islam. And I think that for us to be successful in fighting this scourge, it’s very important for us to align ourselves with the 99.9 percent of Muslims who are looking for the same thing we’re looking for. Order, peace, prosperity.”
Obama said he doesn’t “quibble with labels.”
“I think we all recognize that this is a particular problem that has roots in Muslim communities,” he said. “And that the Middle East and South Asia are — it’s very ground zero for us needing to win back hearts and minds particularly when it comes to young people. But I think we do ourselves a disservice in this fight if we are not taking into account the fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslims reject this ideology.”
The president argued that despite critics saying he’s not recognizing the terrorist threat, he’s “pretty mindful of the terrible costs of terrorism around the world.”
“What I do insist on is that we maintain a proper perspective and that we do not provide a victory to these terrorist networks by overinflating their importance and suggesting in some fashion that they are an existential threat to the United States or the world order. You know, the truth of the matter is that they can do harm. But we have the capacity to control how we respond in ways that do not undercut what’s the — you know, what’s essence of who we are,” Obama said.
“That means that we don’t torture, for example, and thereby undermine our values and credibility around the world. It means that we don’t approach this with a strategy of sending out occupying armies and playing Whac-A-Mole wherever a terrorist group appears because that drains our economic strength and it puts enormous burdens on our military.”
Obama said what’s required “is a surgical, precise response to a very specific problem.”
“And if we do that effectively, then ultimately these terrorist organizations will be defeated because they don’t have a vision that appeals to ordinary people. It is — it really is, as has been described in some cases, a death cult, or an entirely backward looking fantasy that can’t function in the world,” he said.
“When you look at ISIL, it has no governing strategy. It can talk about sitting up the new caliphate but nobody is under any illusions that they can actually, you know, sustain or feed people or educate people or organize a society that would work. And so we can’t give them the victory of overinflating what they do, and we can’t make the mistake of being reactive to them. We have to have a precise strategy in terms of how to defeat them.”