What Was Missing from Obama’s Anti-Terrorism Speech

Story Transcript

THOMAS HEDGES, TRNN PRODUCER: Last week, the White House held a summit on countering violent extremism. Governments and civil society groups from more than 60 countries came together in Washington, D.C., to address global terrorism. But critics say they failed to address the issue of Western intervention in the Middle East.

On Thursday, President Obama deliver the keynote address and focused on the rise of the Islamic State.

BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: We have to confront the warped ideologies espoused by terrorists like al-Qaeda and ISIL, especially their attempt to use Islam to justify their violence.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that groups like al-Qaeda and ISIL are deliberately targeting their propaganda to Muslim communities, particularly Muslim youth. And Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics, therefore have a responsibility to push back, not just on twisted interpretations of Islam, but also on the lie that we are somehow engaged in a clash of civilizations.

VIJAY PRASHAD, AUTHOR, ARAB SPRING, LIBYAN WINTER: I mean, what can you say? He is a master of communicating.

HEDGES: Author and professor Vijay Prashad of Trinity College applauded President Obama’s defense of Islam, but said that he ignored the larger role that the United States and Saudi Arabia have played in fomenting the birth of the Islamic State.

PRASHAD: You’ve got to admit that it’s something for an American president at this time to attempt to say that Islam is not the enemy. It takes an incredible amount of fortitude, where there is a sense of bigoted anger against Islam growing in the country. And I think it’s a very responsible thing for him to have said that this is not the direction that the United States should go in. And indeed, I hope this lesson is heard in Europe as well, where I think there is very much a loose trigger of bigotry that sets in motion at any point.

HEDGES: But Prashad says this is only the first step in unveiling the true reason for extremism in the Middle East, which in large part is a reaction to the ongoing violence and occupation that Western and Saudi forces have brought to the region.

PRASHAD: If it’s not about Islam, then what is it? What is the nature of this conflict? To get into that, you have to talk about the way this is both somewhat about Islam and not about Islam. This is about geopolitics. This is about a very long-term process that got underway in the 1950s and ’60s, when the United States and the Saudis together decided to push back against Arab nationalism, to push back against communism, particularly in Iraq and it Syria. And they proposed a platform called the World Muslim League, formed formally in the early 1960s and 1962, which fought back against the idea that nationalism or communism were indeed authentic for the Arab lands. They argued at that time the only authentic political and moral compass for Arab people was Islam. And it was the kind of Islam that the Saudis put forward.

So this has been a long trend, which the Saudis have taken leadership in. The Americans have backed them to the health and continue to back them.

So it’s true it’s important that Mr. Obama say this is not about Islam, because the answer to ISIS is not going to be found either in the Quran or in starting a religious war.

HEDGES: Prashad says that as long as the U.S. government refuses to acknowledge its role in destabilizing the Middle East, groups like the Islamic State will continue to sprout and grow in reaction to the West.

PRASHAD: If he’s to be truly honest to the way in which these groups have emerged, you have to understand the role that U.S. and Saudi politics has played in this region. This role goes through the antipathy to the Iranian Revolution, the long war that the West and the Saudis backed when they pushed Iraq to go to war against Iran, the very debilitating and horrible sanctions regime that destroyed Iraq in the 1990s, of course the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. And it’s not just Iraq. Is the role the Saudis have played in destabilizing any rational regime in the region. And I’m thinking here of in Yemen, where there was, again, a left-wing government; it had to be destabilized. In Sudan, which had been the largest communist party in Africa, that had to be destabilized. And the Saudis played a leading role with complete backing from the United States in pushing out the forces of the left on behalf of their very strange and parochial version of Islam. So Obama is right, but he’s only half right.

HEDGES: For The Real News, Thomas Hedges, Washington.

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