Obama has been criticized recently for attempting to delink ISIS (or ISIL, as he would put it) and other terrorist groups from Islam. The president has been sounding this note since the fall, when he insisted, “ISIL is not Islamic.” And there’s reason behind his rhetoric. Obama is seeking to combat rising Islamophobia in many parts of the world, assure Muslims that the United States is not at war with Islam, and fight a war against a barbarous terrorist organization that seeks its legitimacy through Islamic theology. Earlier this month, the White House and State Department hosted a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), during which the president once again insisted, “We are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” and “No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism.” The president hasn’t gone so far as to deny any connection between terrorism and Islam, but he tends to acknowledge the link by noting how ISIS and similar groups exploit Islam to justify violence while their true motivations are wholly distinct from their faith.
At the conference in Mecca, by contrast, speakers seem to have been less certain that Islamist terror can be divorced from Islam. Some statements did echo those made by the White House. According to a translation by the Muslim World League, al-Tayeb argued, “The violence and terrorism … of these groups are strange to Islam. They have nothing to do with our creed, Sharia, ethic, history, and civilization.” And much as Obama sought to expand the discussion of violent extremism to include examples like the Oklahoma City bombing and the attack against a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, participants at the Mecca conference similarly argued that terrorism is associated with no one religion, remarking that “if a Muslim … commits an act of terror, it is linked to Islam. But if the same terror act is committed by a Christian, Jew, Hindu, or Buddhist, it is seldom linked to the perpetrator’s religion,” according to a report by the Saudi Gazette.
At other times, though, speakers asserted that ISIS could not be disassociated from Islam. After discounting poverty, social marginalization, and incarceration as the primary causes of radicalization, al-Tayeb said that in his opinion, “the most prominent” source of radicalization among Muslims is the “historical accumulations of extremism and militancy in our heritage.” ...Bingo!