On Wednesday afternoon President Obama addressed the Countering Violent Extremist (CVE) summit at the White House. The event was explicitly convened to discuss ways faith and political leaders can begin combating terrorist recruitment efforts and the growing appeal of radicalism in the years ahead.
“As Americans, we are strong and we are resilient and when tragedy strikes – when we take a hit – we pull together and we draw on what’s best in our character," he began his remarks. "I say all this because we face genuine challenges to our security just as we have throughout our history.”
He then spent the remainder of his speech discussing four of them.
“First, we have to confront squarely, and honestly, the twisted ideologies that these terrorist groups use to incite people to violence,” he said. “Just as leaders like myself reject the notion that terrorists like ISIL genuinely represent Islam, Muslim leaders need to do more to discredit the notion [there’s] an inherent clash in civilizations. Everybody has to speak up very clearly that no matter what the grievance, violence against innocents doesn’t defend Islam or Muslims; it damages Islam and Muslims.”
Furthermore, the second challenge the West faces, he explained, is recognizing and understanding the vulnerability of would-be terrorists.
“We have to address the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances,” he said. “Poverty alone does not cause a person to become a terrorist. [W]hat’s true is that when millions of people –especially youth—are impoverished and have no hope for the future [resentments] fester. The risk of instability and extremism grow.”
This of course is directly relevant to a third and related challenge, one that breeds both alienation from civilized society and interest in Jihadism.
“We also need to [address] the political grievances that are exploited by terrorists,” he continued. “When governments oppress their people, deny human rights, stifle dissent more marginalized ethnic and religious groups [it] sows the seeds of extremism and violence. It makes those communities more vulnerable to recruitment.”
“The essential ingredient to real and lasting stability and progress is not less democracy," he emphasized, "it’s more democracy.”
Finally, he urged faith leaders and communities to be more vigilant and involved in the lives of young people.
“We have to be honest with ourselves,” he declared. “Terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIL deliberately target their propaganda in the hope of reaching and brainwashing young Muslims. [W]hen someone starts getting radicalized family and friends are often able to see something’s changed in their personality [and therefore able to] make a difference.”
In conclusion, he described ISIL’s ideology as a “generational threat." However, he expressed both hope and optimism that, not unlike communism and Nazism before it, it too would someday be defeated.
Let us hope he's right.