On Sunday evening, President Obama gave a rare address from the Oval Office. The remarks, delivered a few days after Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people in San Bernardino, was intended to reassure the public that the American government has a plan to fight terrorism here and abroad.
Obama began his speech by calling the San Bernardino shooting “an act of terrorism” inspired by ISIS (or ISIL, as he calls it) while reiterating that there was no evidence that Farook and Malik acted under direct orders from the group. “The terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase,” he said.
“I know that after so much war, many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure,” he said. “Well, here’s what I want you to know. The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it. We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us. Our success won’t depend on tough talk or abandoning our values or giving into fear. That’s what groups like ISIL are hoping for. Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart. Resilient and relentless. And by drawing upon every aspect of American power.”
Obama didn’t announce any new policies or proposals. Instead, he outlined his current approach to combating ISIS: 1) Bombing the group in Iraq and Syria; 2) training and giving supplies to local groups fighting ISIS; 3) “working with friends and allies” to “disrupt [ISIS’s] plots, cut off their financing, and prevent them from recruiting more fighters”; and 4) working to achieve “a political resolution to the Syrian war.”
He then called for gun-control measures that might prevent attacks like the one in San Bernardino. “Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun,” he said. (No luck with that so far.) “We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino.”
Obama also urged Congress to “put in place stronger screening for those who come to America without a visa so that we can take a hard look at whether they’ve traveled to war zones,” as well as to “authorize the continued use of military force against [ISIS].” However, he added that we “should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria.”
Finally, he warned against the United States’s growing Islamophobia, while acknowledging that “an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities.”
We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want. ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers. Part of a cult of death. And they account for a tiny fraction of a more than a billion Muslims around the world, including millions of patriotic Muslim-Americans who reject their hateful ideology.
But just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans, of every faith, to reject discrimination. It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim-Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL.
“I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history,” Obama concluded. “Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear. That we have always met challenges, whether war or depression, natural disasters or terrorist attacks, by coming together around our common ideals as one nation and one people. So long as we stay true to that tradition, I have no doubt that America will prevail.”