WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 : President Barack Obama has brushed aside the suggestion that the United States’ fight against terror means Washington is engaged in a war with Islam, as he argued the need for maintaining a proper perspective in counterterrorism efforts.
He pointed out in an interview with CNN that there is an element growing out of Muslim communities in certain parts of the world that “have embraced a nihilistic, violent, almost medieval interpretation of Islam” but a dominant majority of the Muslims rejects that thinking and does not consider it as being Islamic.
Obama said with their militant activities, the small minority is doing damage in a lot of countries around the world.
“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.”
The U.S. president was answering criticism by some Republicans like senator Lindsay Graham who claim the U.S. is fighting a war against radical Islam and that the Obama White House takes pains at avoiding the use of terms like “Islamic terrorists.”
“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 noted that the “Middle East and South Asia are sort of 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.” He cautioned against exaggerating the threat posed by terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS and therefore handing them the victory.
“I am pretty mindful of terrible cost of terrorism around the world,” Obama said.
“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.
The terror groups, he pointed out, do not pose an “existential threat to the United States or the world order.”
“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 essence of who we are. That means that we don’t torture, for example, and thereby undermine our values and credibility around the world,” Obama said.
“It means that we don’t approach this with a strategy of sending out occupying armies and playing whack-a-mole wherever a terrorist group appears because that drains our economic strength and it puts enormous burdens on our military.”
Washington needs to instead keep its response “surgical” and not be reactive, he noted.
He also responded to a question a regarding a drone landing on the lawns of the White House while he was visiting India. Obama said the U.S. needs a structure to “get the good and minimize the bad” of new technologies like drones.
Speaking in the geostrategic perspective, Obama said “China doesn’t need to be threatened because we have good relations with India.”
“My belief is that in this moment in history, there is an opportunity to create a win-win formula in which all countries are abiding by a common set of rules and standards, and we’re focused on lifting up prosperity for our people, not at the expense of others, but together with each other, and that’s what my discussions with Prime Minister Modi have focused on.”
“I’ve continually emphasized that it is very much in America’s interest to see China continue with its peaceful rise. What’s dangerous for us is a destabilized and impoverished and disintegrating China. It’s much better for us if China is doing well.
“But what we’ve said, since the start of my term in office, is China’s growth shouldn’t be at the expense of other folks. It shouldn’t bully small countries like Vietnam or the Philippines around maritime issues, but try to resolve those peacefully, in accordance with international law. It shouldn’t manipulate its currency to give itself trading advantages that others don’t have.”
At the same time, Obama emphasized that “I care deeply about China’s success, and you know, I want to make sure that we continue to maintain a constructive relationship.”
On US-India relations, he said, being democracies the two countries feel affinity.
“There’s no doubt that there are aspects of India that make us closer to India. Specifically it’s a democracy, and reflects the values and aspirations as well as some of the warts of our own country, in a way that China could not. And so I think there’s an affinity there that I feel personally and I think the American people feel as well.”
A version of the news story was first published in Pakistan Today February 1, 2015