“In some of our countries, including the United States, Muslim communities are still small and relative to the entire population, and as a result, many people in our countries don’t always know personally somebody who is Muslim. So the image they get of Muslims or Islam is in the news, and given the existing news cycle, that can give a very distorted impression,” he said.
Obama called it “a painful truth that’s part of the challenge that brings us here today.”
“A lot of the bad, like terrorists who claim to speak for Islam, that’s absorbed by the general population,” he said, adding that there’s “not enough of the good.”
“The world hears a lot about the terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo in Paris, but the world has to also remember the Paris police officer – a Muslim, who died trying to stop them,” Obama said.
“The world knows about the attack on the Jews at the kosher supermarket in Paris. We need to recall the worker at that market – a Muslim, who hid Jewish customers and saved their lives – and when he was asked why he did it, he said, ‘We are brothers. It’s not a question of Jews or Christians or Muslims. We’re all in the same boat, and we have to help each other to get out of this crisis,’” he added.
“When people spew hatred towards others because of their faith or because they are immigrants, it feeds into terrorist narratives. If entire communities feel they can never become a full part of the society in which they reside, it feeds a cycle of fear and resentment and a sense of injustice upon which extremists prey,” the president said.
“We can’t allow cycles of suspicions to tear at the fabric of our countries. So we all recognize the need for more dialogues across countries and cultures. Those efforts are indeed important, but what’s needed today perhaps are more dialogues within countries – not just across faiths, but also within faiths,” he said.
Obama announced that the U.S. is joining with the United Arab Emirates to create new digital communications hub to work with religious, civil society, and community leaders to counter terrorist propaganda.
“Terrorists prey upon young impressionable minds, so let’s bring our youth together to promote understanding and cooperation, and that’s what the United States will do with our virtual exchange program named after Ambassador Chris Stevens to connect 1 million young people from America and the Middle East and north Africa for dialogue,” Obama said. Stevens and three other Americans were killed by terrorists at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012.
“All of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorist narrative. At the same time, we must acknowledge that groups like al Qaeda and ISIL are deliberately targeting their propaganda to Muslim communities, particularly Muslim youth,” he said.
“The notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie, and all of us regardless of our faith have a responsibility to reject it,” he said.