Obama blasts extremists who seek to ‘hijack religion’

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama told a high-profile Washington breakfast on Thursday that violence rooted in religion wasn’t exclusive to Islam, but has been carried out by Christians as well.
Obama said that even though religion was a source for good around the world, there will always be people willing to “hijack religion for their own murderous ends.”
“Unless we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” Obama told the National Prayer Breakfast, a traditional gathering of political and religious leaders.
“In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
Obama also denounced Islamic State terrorists for professing to stand up for Islam when they were actually “betraying it.” “We see ISIL, a brutal vicious death cult that in the name of religion carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism,” he said criticising them for “claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.” “We are summoned to push back against those who would distort our religion for their nihilistic ends,” Obama said.
He singled out the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, calling the militants a “death cult,” as well as those responsible for last month’s terror attacks in Paris and deadly assault on a school in Pakistan.
Suggesting he disagreed with a satirical French newspaper that provoked deadly terrorist attacks by poking fun at Islam, President Obama said that the people of faith are obligated “to condemn such insults.”
“If in fact we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults and stand shoulder to shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are targets of such attacks,” Obama said.
The President said, “Just because you have the right to state something doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t question those who would insult others in the name of free speech.”
Obama never directly mentioned the newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, that was the scene of a terrorist attack in Paris last month that left 12 dead.
The Islamist militants who carried out the attack said they were seeking revenge for the newspaper’s blasphemous caricatures of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) that offended many Muslims.
After the attacks, the President was roundly criticised for failing to attend a unity march in Paris with other world leaders in support of free speech.
“We will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom, freedom of religion, the right to practice our faith how we choose, to change our faith if we choose, to practice no faith at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination,” he said. Referring to the global fight against terrorism, Obama criticised those who pervert Islam to carry out violent attacks.
“From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for their faith; profess to stand up for Islam but in fact are betraying it,” Obama said.
“We see [the Islamic State], a brutal, vicious death cult that in the name of religion carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism, terrorising religious minorities.” The President added, “No God condones terror. As people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion, any religion for their own nihilistic ends.”
But Obama said Christians shouldn’t claim any historical high ground about religious-inspired violence, and said that the US has not been immune from such examples.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, President Obama met Muslim leaders and discussed a range of issues with them including the efforts required to combat the dreaded IS and its “horrific” acts of terrorism.
“The President discussed the need to continue countering ISIL and other groups that commit horrific acts of violence, purportedly in the name of Islam,” the White House said.
Noting the remarkable contributions of Muslim Americans to the US, Obama encouraged the participants to remain civically engaged in their communities. He said he looked forward for additional opportunities to continue such discussions.
Obama appreciated the participants for their work and for coming together to offer views on important issues. He said regular interactions with different communities provided him with valuable insights and feedback.
Among the topics of discussion were the community’s efforts and partnerships with the government on a range of domestic issues such as the Affordable Care Act, issues of anti-Muslim violence and discrimination, the 21st Century Policing Task Force, and the upcoming White House Summit on Countering Violence Extremism, the White House said.
Obama reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to safeguarding civil rights through hate crimes prosecutions and civil enforcement actions.
Hoda Elshishtawy, the national policy analyst for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, attended the meeting and pressed Obama to put more Muslims in high government positions. Those appointments, she said, help ensure that American Muslims are engaged and “participating in the civic process.”
Most of the other attendees refused to talk to reporters waiting outside the West Wing when the meeting concluded.  Muslim groups state that the rise of the Islamic State has fuelled attacks against Muslims in the US.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that 14.2 per cent of all religious hate crimes were against Muslims in 2013, up from 12.8 per cent in 2012.
South Asian Americans Leading Together, an advocacy group in the Washington suburb of Takoma Park, Maryland, documented 79 examples of what they called “xenophobic rhetoric” by political figures from January 2011 through April 2014. That’s up from a previous report the group did spanning 2006 to 2010.
“There are immediate ripple effects in communities across the country,” said Suman Raghunathan, the Executive Director of the organisation.
“Muslim communities are increasingly being targeted and seen as prone to terrorism.”
In one example last month, a State lawmaker in Texas demanded that Muslims who visit her office take an oath of loyalty and denounce Islamic terrorism.
The lawmaker, state Representative Molly White, posted on Facebook that she wanted Muslim visitors to “publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.” She also wrote: “We will see how long they stay in my office.”
The same Muslim leaders facing increased discrimination are being pressed by the Obama administration to help identify extremism within their mosques and neighbourhoods, a tactic that has made some groups uncomfortable.

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