President Obama on Wednesday called on Muslim communities to “explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology” of terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State – the new global threat that he labeled a “network of death.”
The president used a 35-minute address before the United Nation General Assembly to try to rally the world behind his military campaign to destroy ISIS. He spoke less than 48 hours after he ordered an expansion of that effort with U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria.
Defending the launch of a new war in the Middle East, Obama turned to stark rhetoric that contained echoes of his predecessor, George W. Bush, in painting the fight against terrorism as a battle between good and evil.
The only language understood by terrorists, he said, is “the language of force."
No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death."
Yet Obama made clear that ultimately, only Muslims themselves could eradicate the extremism within their midst.
It is time for the world – especially Muslim communities – to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIL.
It is the task of all great religions to accommodate devout faith with a modern, multicultural world. No children – anywhere – should be educated to hate other people. There should be no more tolerance of so-called clerics who call upon people to harm innocents because they are Jewish, Christian or Muslim. It is time for a new compact among the civilized peoples of this world to eradicate war at its most fundamental source: the corruption of young minds by violent ideology."
While Obama devoted a significant portion of his speech to the terrorist threat, he warned that the world was plagued by a broader, “pervasive unease” that he said was caused by the failure of the global community to enforce international norms.
He condemned the aggression of Russia against Ukraine, sounded an alarm about the widening Ebola outbreak, and said the effort to secure peace between Israel and the Palestinians could not be shunted aside because of the summer war in Gaza.
Each of these problems demands urgent attention. But they are also symptoms of a broader problem – the failure of our international system to keep pace with an interconnected world. We have not invested adequately in the public health capacity of developing countries. Too often, we have failed to enforce international norms when it’s inconvenient to do so. And we have not confronted forcefully enough the intolerance, sectarianism, and hopelessness that feeds violent extremism in too many parts of the globe.
The president said the members of the U.N. had to choose between renewing an international system that has served the world well for more than half a century, or allowing themselves “to be pulled back by an undertow of instability.”
Obama forcefully defended America’s role in the world even as he acknowledged critics who are “quick to point out that at times we too have failed to live up to our ideals.”
Citing the racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, over the summer, Obama said the U.S. “has plenty of problems within our own borders.”
In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri – where a young man was killed, and a community was divided. So yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions. And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization and greater diversity with the traditions that we hold dear.”
But, the president added, “we welcome the scrutiny of the world.”
Because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems and make our union more perfect. America is not the same as it was 100 years ago, 50 years ago, or even a decade ago. Because we fight for our ideals, and are willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short. Because we hold our leaders accountable, and insist on a free press and independent judiciary. Because we address our differences in the open space of democracy – with respect for the rule of law; with a place for people of every race and religion; and with an unyielding belief in the ability of individual men and women to change their communities and countries for the better.
After nearly six years as president, I believe that this promise can help light the world.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.