At the second day of a White House summit on violence extremism, President Obama asserted that there is no way to predict who will become a terrorist, and also addressed criticism that he’s been vague about radical Islam’s role in terrorism.
“We all know there is no one profile of a violent extremist or terrorist. There’s no way to predict who will become radicalized,” Obama said Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s not unique to one group, or to one geography or one period of time.”
Obama’s comments are ironic given that the extremist summit is aimed at addressing elements rising up in the Muslim community. The administration has struggled to square the focus of the summit — as well as the recent spate of Islamic terrorist acts — with its claims that all groups are equally susceptible to spawning terrorism and extremism.
The three-day summit will bring together religious, community, and civil leaders from over 60 countries.
Obama also addressed criticism that he’s downplayed the role of Islam in various terrorist attacks across the world.
“Leading up to this summit there’s been a fair amount of debate in the press and among pundits about the words we use to describe and frame this challenge,” Obama said. “So I want to be very clear about how I see it. Al-Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves and religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam.”
“They are not religious leaders, they are terrorists,” Obama continued, to applause from the crowd.
The issue of how to label terrorist groups and discuss terrorist acts has proved difficult for the Obama administration.
Last January, he compared ISIS to a “JV” team. And in an interview with Vox last week, he said that terrorists who shot up a Paris deli following the Charlie Hebdo massacre did so “randomly.”
Obama also addressed last week’s shooting in Chapel Hill, N.C. shooting, in which Craig Hicks, a white man, shot the three Muslim-American students at their condominium. Police believe that Hicks was upset over a parking dispute. Muslim activists have said that the shooting could be a hate crime.
“Most recently with the brutal murders in Chapel Hill of three young Muslim-Americans, many Muslim-Americans are worried and afraid. And I want to be as clear as I can be. As Americans, all faiths and backgrounds, we stand with you in your grief and we offer our love and we offer our support,” Obama said.
Obama previewed his remarks at the extremism summit in an op-ed that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.
“We know that military force alone cannot solve” the problem of extremism, Obama wrote.
“Nor can we simply take out terrorists who kill innocent civilians. We also have to confront the violent extremists — the propagandists, recruiters and enablers — who may not directly engage in terrorist acts themselves, but who radicalize, recruit and incite others to do so.”
The focus of the summit, Obama wrote, is “empowering local communities.”