Obama calls on Muslim world to reject ISIS in address to UN

President Obama called for the Muslim world to reject the “cancer” of terrorism during a speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday meant to build support for the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

“It is time for the world — especially Muslim communities — to explicitly, forcefully and consistently reject the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIL,” Obama said, using another acronym for ISIS.

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Obama spoke just hours after the latest U.S. strikes against Islamic militant targets in Syria. The U.S. expanded its military campaign against ISIS on Monday from Iraq to Syria, and also hit an al Qaeda group that the administration said represented an imminent threat to the West. 

He took pains in his address to argue the U.S. was not at war with Islam, saying the administration rejects “any suggestion of a clash of civilizations.” 

He also cast the effort as multilateral. Tuesday’s strikes in Syria were joined by four other Arab nations, and Obama has gone to the U.N. looking for more support for the U.S. campaign. He noted that 40 nations have already joined the U.S. effort. 

“Today, I ask the world to join in this effort,” he said.

Obama forcefully defended the use of force against ISIS in front of an audience that included many critics of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

“There can be no reasoning — no negotiation — with this brand of evil,” Obama said of ISIS. “The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.”

He argued that Islamic terrorism has ravaged the Middle East, and that leaders must end the relentless sectarian conflict that terrorist groups exploit to gain power and influence and help stamp out terrorist networks.

Obama told Muslim leaders that there should be no tolerance of religious clerics who preach a violent ideology, and that nations must move to block funding and support for groups that destroy. He also said Arab and Muslim countries had a responsibility to negotiate an end to sectarian violence, and devote resources to investing in their youth.

“Those who continue to fight for a hateful cause will find they are increasingly alone,” Obama said. “For we will not succumb to threats; and we will demonstrate that the future belongs to those who build — not those who destroy.”

The president also called on countries to support a new resolution targeting the flow of foreign fighters who travel to the Middle East to join terror groups like ISIS. Western leaders have warned those radicalized individuals could use their passports to return home and carry out attacks. In a rare move, Obama plans to raise the resolution at a meeting of the Security Council later Wednesday.

While much of Obama’s speech was focused on extremism in the Middle East, he also called for global support in countering Russia’s incursion into Ukraine and dealing with the Ebola epidemic in Africa. 

“We have not invested adequately in the public health capacity of developing countries,” Obama said. 

Obama harshly criticized Moscow's actions, even arguing that Russian-backed fighters interfered with efforts to recover the bodies of those killed after a Malaysian jetliner was shot down by Russian separatists in Ukraine. 

He said Russia was challenging the “post-war order.” 

“This is a vision of the world in which might makes right — a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another, and civilized people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones because of the truth that might be revealed,” he said.

The president also mentioned the racially-charged violence in Ferguson, Mo., that erupted after an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer. 

He said that it was difficult to call others to action when the U.S. at times has “failed to live up to our ideals.”

The world “took notice” of the clashes in Ferguson, Obama said, which highlight American “racial and ethnic tensions.”

“But we welcome the scrutiny of the world — because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems and make our union more perfect,” he said.

That guiding principle would orient the U.S. as it approached the many challenges on the world stage, he said.

“At this crossroads, I can promise you that the United States of America will not be distracted or deterred from what must be done,” Obama said. “We are heirs to a proud legacy of freedom, and we are prepared to do what is necessary to secure that legacy for generations to come. Join us in this common mission, for today’s children and tomorrow’s.”

This story was updated at 11:23 a.m.