Obama on Jihad

Obama deflects criticism on Pakistan & Islam

So far US President has impressed me during his visit to  India. He has proven himself authentic and mindful while responding to the toughest questions regarding US front allies in War against Terrorism.

Earlier India’s mainstream opposition party criticized Obama for not taking Pakistan’s name in 26/11 Mumbai Attacks.

Here are a couple of excerpts from recent Q &A session of US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at town hall with students at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai.

Question: Hi, good day, sir. Hi, my name is Anna and I’m from St. Davis College. My question to you is, what is your take on opinion about jihad, or jihadi? Whatever is your opinion, what do you think of them?

Barack Obama: Well, the phrase jihad has a lot of meanings within Islam and is subject to a lot of different interpretations. But I will say that, first, Islam is one of the world’s great religions. And more than a billion people who practice Islam, the overwhelming majority view their obligations to their religion as ones that reaffirm peace and justice and fairness and tolerance. I think all of us recognize that this great religion in the hands of a few extremists has been distorted to justify violence towards innocent people that is never justified.

And so I think one of the challenges that we face is how do we isolate those who have these distorted notions of religious war and reaffirm those who see faiths of all sorts – whether you are a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or a Jew or any other religion, or your don’t practice a religion – that we can all treat each other with respect and mutual dignity, and that some of the universal principles that Gandhi referred to – that those are what we’re living up to, as we live in a nation or nations that have very diverse religious beliefs.

And that’s a major challenge. It’s a major here in India, but it’s a challenge obviously around the world. And young people like yourselves can make a huge impact in reaffirming that you can be a stronger observer of your faith without putting somebody else down or visiting violence on somebody else.

I think a lot of these ideas form very early. And how you respond to each other is going to be probably as important as any speech that a President makes in encouraging the kinds of religious tolerance that I think is so necessary in a world that’s getting smaller and smaller, where more and more people of different backgrounds, different races, different ethnicities are interacting and working and learning from each other.

And those circumstances – I think all of us have to fundamentally reject the notion that violence is a way to mediate our differences.

Question: I’m from H.R. College of Commerce and Economics. We were the privileged college to host Mr. Otis Moss this January. Sir, my question to you is why is Pakistan so important an ally to America, so far as America has never called it a terrorist state?

Barack Omaba: Well – no, no, it’s a good question. And I must admit I was expecting it. (Laughter.) Pakistan is an enormous country. It is a strategically important country not just for the United States but for the world. It is a country whose people have enormous potential, but it is also, right now, a country that within it has some of the extremist elements that we discussed in the first question. That’s not unique to Pakistan, but obviously it exists in Pakistan.

The Pakistani government is very aware of that. And what we have tried to do over the last several years, certainly – I’ll just speak to my foreign policy – has been to engage aggressively with the Pakistani government to communicate that we want nothing more than a stable, prosperous, peaceful Pakistan, and that we will work with the Pakistani government in order to eradicate this extremism that we consider a cancer within the country that can potentially engulf the country.

And I will tell you that I think the Pakistani government understands now the potential threat that exists within their own borders. There are more Pakistanis who’ve been killed by terrorists inside Pakistan than probably anywhere else.

Now, progress is not as quick as we’d like, partly because when you get into, for example, some of the Northwest Territories, these are very – this is very difficult terrain, very entrenched. The Pakistani army has actually shifted some of its emphasis and focus into those areas. But that’s not originally what their armed forces were designed to do, and so they’re having to adapt and adjust to these new dangers and these new realities.

I think there is a growing recognition – but it’s something that doesn’t happen overnight – of what a profound problem this is. And so our feeling has been to be honest and forthright with Pakistan, to say we are your friend, this is a problem and we will help you, but the problem has to be addressed.

Now, let me just make this point, because obviously the history between India and Pakistan is incredibly complex and was born of much tragedy and much violence. And so it may be surprising to some of you to hear me say this, but I am absolutely convinced that the country that has the biggest stake in Pakistan’s success is India. I think that if Pakistan is unstable, that’s bad for India. If Pakistan is stable and prosperous, that’s good.

Because India is on the move. And it is absolutely in your interests, at a time when you’re starting to succeed in incredible ways on the global economic stage, that you [don’t] want the distraction of security instability in your region. So my hope is, is that over time trust develops between the two countries, that dialogue begins – perhaps on less controversial issues, building up to more controversial issues – and that over time there’s a recognition that India and Pakistan can live side by side in peace and that both countries can prosper.

That will not happen tomorrow. But I think that needs to be our ultimate goal.

And by the way, the United States stands to be a friend and a partner in that process, but we can’t impose that on India and Pakistan. Ultimately, India and Pakistan have to arrive at their own understandings in terms of how the relationship evolves.