RANCHO MIRAGE, California: The United States wants to partner Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei that “represent the best of moderate Islam” to combat the rise of extremist groups such as Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS), said President Barack Obama.
“Their voice, I think, is absolutely critical in us winning the larger ideological battle that ISIS has mounted to try to recruit young people in Muslim countries,” he told Channel NewsAsia in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the US-ASEAN Summit in Sunnylands, California on Tuesday (Feb 16).
Mr Obama reiterated that America is not at war with religious faith, but with a “small group that is using a perversion of religion to justify terrible crimes”.
He also addressed concerns that there is growing Islamophobia in America. “There is no doubt that as a consequence of ISIS and their propaganda that they've been able to generate, that that’s evoked fear,” the President said. “And fear is a dangerous thing. When people become afraid, often times they start making generalisations.”
He noted that some politicians have tried to exploit this. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, for instance, has floated a controversial proposal for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US.
Mr Obama dismissed the rhetoric as a publicity stunt.
“Let’s be clear. I think every country has politicians who say things that are not representative of the country but can get them attention. What matters is what the President of the United States - duly elected by the people - has to say and I’ve been very clear about my positions on these things.”
He added that the overwhelming majority of Americans are “very clear” on the belief that people should be judged on the basis of actions, not faith. ”They understand that Islam is a religion of peace, and that more than a billion Muslims around the world are interested in the same things that we are: Making sure their children can learn, making sure they can build a better life for themselves.”
Watch the full interview exclusively on Channel NewsAsia on Feb 22, 8pm SG/HK with an encore telecast on Feb 23 at 6pm and Feb 24 at 1pm.