Obama kept reform Muslims out of summit on extremism
The White House excluded members of a prominent group of reformist Muslims from its terror summit this week, apparently because President Obama rejects their argument that such groups as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are actually motivated by Islam.
A group of 23 prominent Muslim reformers signed a full-page ad in the Sunday New York Times on Jan. 11 asking “What can Muslims do to reclaim their ‘beautiful religion’?”
But Obama and officials throughout his administration deny any connection between Islam and the terrorists beheading and burning their victims in a reign of terror in the Middle East.
Muslim reformers say the administration is ignoring them because they disagree with Obama’s refusal to acknowledge the Islamic roots of the extremists’ ideology.
Some of the most prominent reformers have argued for years that the ideological and theological roots of Islamist extremism must be addressed, but administration officials carefully avoided exactly that subject during Obama’s three-day summit.
The White House is also undermining its own efforts by working with people who sympathize with the goals of violent extremist groups, if not their methods, the reformers say.
“We have to own the issue of extremist Islamic theology in order to defeat it and remove it from our world. We have to name it to tame it,” Muslim journalists Asra Nomani and Hala Arafa wrote in an essay published Friday by the Daily Beast.
“Among Muslims, stuck in face-saving, shame-based cultures, we need to own up to our extremist theology instead of always reverting to a strategy of denial, deflection and demonization.”
Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, was close friends with her colleague Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and beheaded by Islamist extremists in Pakistan in 2002.
At the summit, Obama and other officials insisted there is no link between Islam and the Islamist extremist groups that have been at the forefront of a dramatic spike in terrorist violence worldwide.
“Al Qaeda and [the Islamic State] and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam,” Obama said Wednesday.
“We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists. And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”
The summit aimed at empowering community leaders to help Muslims resist the extremists’ message and improved strategies to communicate a more moderate message. But the administration’s refusal to identify the threat — and the exclusion of those who do from the conversation — works against meeting those goals, reformers said.
“Islam is a religion like any other with all the various sects and denominations. Islamism is a desire to impose Islam over society. And that is a very theocratic extremist desire. It can manifest itself violently. When it does, I call it jihadism. But it can also manifest itself politically. It’s still a problematic ideology because any desire to impose anyone’s faith over anyone else is inherently flawed and must be challenged,” he said.
“Al Qaeda didn’t inspire extremism. It was this extremist Islamist ideology that inspired al Qaeda. And unless and until we recognize the problem isn’t these Mafiosi-style groups that we can just take out by taking out their leaderships, but it’s the ideology that inspires them, we’ll have a new [Islamic State] tomorrow.”