President Barack Obama warned Americans against stereotyping Muslims in his weekly White House address on Saturday, saying that the group should not be judged based on the “twisted interpretation of Islam” used by ISIS to justify violence.
“Terrorists like ISIL are trying to divide us along lines of religion and background,” the president said. “That's how they stoke fear. That’s how they recruit. And just as Muslims around the world have to keep rejecting any twisted interpretation of Islam, all of us have to reject bigotry — in all of its forms."
He added: “I’ll say it again, prejudice and discrimination helps ISIL and it undermines our national security.”
Obama’s remarks come less than a week after he delivered a rare prime-time Oval Office address to the nation on Sunday. During that speech, he worked to reassure Americans about his strategy to defeat extremism and the Islamic State in the wake of the recent shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California, which he had called for the first time “an act of terrorism.”
Republican presidential hopefuls rebuked Obama for the points made in his 13-minute long message. Several argued that he is incapable of defeating ISIS and the administration's strategy doesn't go far enough. Even hours before his address, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz issued a statement urging the president to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism." The president's refusal to use the term, considered by many to be divisive rhetoric demonizing Muslims, continues to be a source of criticism in conservative circles.
The shooting in San Bernardino, which was carried out by husband and wife Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people and wounded 21 others. Malik had pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before the attack, law enforcement sources told NBC News. The rampage triggered nationwide concerns about gun control, national security and the Obama administration’s ability to defeat ISIS. The FBI has said it is investigating the mass shooting as an act of terror.
The president added on Saturday that the U.S.-led counter-terrorism coalition is carrying out airstrikes, “hitting ISIL harder than ever” in areas of Iraq and Syria that the Islamic State has occupied.
“We’re taking out more of their fighters and leaders, their weapons, their oil tankers. Our Special Operations Forces are on the ground — because we’re going to hunt down these terrorists wherever they try to hide,” he said.
He later encouraged Americans to stay vigilant and report any suspicious activity to police. The president is set to visit the Pentagon and the National Counterterrorism Center on Monday, to hold talks with top security officials about the campaign to defeat the Islamic State.