WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he refuses to describe the Islamic State and al Qaeda as groups fueled by "radical Islam" because the term grants them a religious legitimacy they don't deserve.
"They are not religious leaders; they are terrorists," Obama said during remarks at a White House event on countering violent extremism. "We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam."
Obama said the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is "desperate" to portray itself as a group of holy warriors defending Islam. It counts on that legitimacy, he said, to propagate the idea that Western countries are at war with Islam, which is how it recruits and radicalizes young people.
"We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie," he said.
The president said the Islamic State and al Qaeda do draw selectively from Islamic texts to try to justify that they are in a religious war. But, he added, that doesn't mean they speak for the more than 1 billion Muslims who reject the group's hateful ideology and violence.
"They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills in the name of Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism," he said. "No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism."