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Obama: We're fighting violent extremism, not a religion

President Barack Obama once against argued that the U.S. is fighting violent extremism, not religious extremism in a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed on Wednesday.
President Obama is seen in the Oval Office on Feb. 17, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Rex Features/AP)
President Obama is seen in the Oval Office on Feb. 17, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

President Barack Obama ahead of Wednesday afternoon's White House Extremism Summit once against argued that the U.S. is fighting violent extremism, not religious extremism, as the country continues to fight the terrorist group ISIS that's taken on new levels of brutality in recent weeks. 

“[W]ith al Qaeda and ISIL peddling the lie that the United States is at war with Islam — all of us have a role to play by upholding the pluralistic values that define us as Americans,” the president said in a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed. "This week, we'll be joined by people of many faiths, including Muslim Americans who make extraordinary contributions to our country every day. It's a reminder that America is successful because we welcome people of all faiths and backgrounds.”

Obama's column serves as a lengthy reminder of just how big a threat terrorism is and previews the summit the president will kick off this afternoon on countering radical extremism. The column makes clear that the president aims to use the summit to promote the idea that peaceful Islam is key to maintaining the free society the U.S. strives for and defeating the radical, violent Islam.

Related: ISIS attacks near Erbil, Iraq, repelled by Peshmerga: Kurdish sources

“Groups like al Qaeda and ISIL promote a twisted interpretation of religion that is rejected by the overwhelming majority of the world's Muslims. The world must continue to lift up the voices of Muslim clerics and scholars who teach the true peaceful nature of Islam,” he wrote. “We can echo the testimonies of former extremists who know how terrorists betray Islam. We can help Muslim entrepreneurs and youths work with the private sector to develop social media tools to counter extremist narratives on the Internet.”

ISIS fighters early Wednesday launched a major assault in Iraq, on the Kurdish Peshmurga -- the forces fighting ISIS on the ground -- in Gwer and Makmour, southeast of Mosul. A number of fighters were killed on both sides, and many ISIS vehicles were destroyed. The previous day, an Iraqi official said that ISIS forces had burned 48 people -- mostly Sunnis -- alive after the Iraqi fighters captured in the north of the country. An Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations also alleged that ISIS forces were selling the organs of their victims, the latest in a long list of brutal acts that includes beheadings and crucifixions. 

The president has been criticized for not declaring war on radical Islam in the course of the fight against the Islamic State.

Related: White House to critical Congress: Don't pass on ISIS plan

"We are in a religious war with radical Islamists," Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham from South Carolina said on Fox earlier this year. "When I hear the President of the United States and his chief spokesperson failing to admit that we're in a religious war, it really bothers me."

But the Op-Ed makes clear that Obama sees this distinction as key to the fight.

“With this week's summit, we'll show once more that — unlike terrorists who only offer misery and death — it is our free societies and diverse communities that offer the true path to opportunity, justice and dignity.”