A day after U.S. President Barack Obama said the fight against the Islamic State militant group should not be defined as one between America and Islam, the White House is reinforcing that message, while urging Muslim-Americans in the United States to do their part.
“We would like to see leaders in the Muslim community stand up and speak out more forcefully, in terms of condemning these hateful, radicalizing messages that we see from extremist organizations,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday.
In his address to the American people Sunday, President Obama said Islamic State “does not speak for Islam” and noted the “millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology.” He spoke out against intolerance, discrimination and divisiveness.
“If we’re 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,” Obama said during his 13-minute speech in the Oval Office.
At the same time, the U.S. president called on Muslims to confront “without excuse” the “real problem” of extremist ideology spreading within some communities.
Muslims, 'Part of the Solution'
White House spokesman Earnest on Monday repeated the president’s message, which he said was not new, but the strongest and most direct in addressing Muslim community leaders.
“They will be more effective if they are working in close partnership with the federal government and with law enforcement and with our counterterrorism professionals and with our neighbors to fight those kind of forces,” the press secretary told reporters.
The comments came as David Bowdich with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said Monday the husband and wife behind the attack in San Bernardino, California that killed 14 people were both “radicalized and had been for some time.”
Seth Jones with the Rand Corporation praised Obama’s remarks on Muslim Americans.
“I think the president said a lot of the right things in countering violent extremism, in dealing with communities, in arguing that Muslims are part of the solution – not part of the problem,” Jones said.
But the counterterrorism analyst said Obama’s address fell short in addressing the shortcomings of the current U.S. strategy against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“I don’t think he was completely forthright in noting that despite a withering air campaign that the Islamic State continues to hold big chunks in Iraq - including in Anbar province – and in Syria, in Raqqa, they’ve expanded into Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other locations – about a dozen places.”
Republican politicians, including presidential candidates have also hit out at the president’s terrorism address, calling the speech disappointing, lacking urgency and offering no new steps to counter the IS threat. Others mocked the president for not using the term radical Islamic terrorism to describe the San Bernardino attacks.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump issued a statement late Monday calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
"Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,'' Trump said in the statement.
The White House on Monday hit back at the criticism calling it divisive, political rhetoric aimed at propelling campaigns. Spokesman Josh Earnest said the speech was aimed at addressing the American public’s terrorism concerns and not satisfying the president’s political opponents.
“The president made clear, as his predecessor did, that it would only serve ISIL’s interest to leave people with the impression that somehow the West, the United States or the entire world is at war with Islam. That’s a fantasy, that is not true.”