Throughout his presidency, President Obama has emphasized one point while talking about Islamist extremists: They are not practicing Islam, he has said, they are perverting it.
He took that a step further Wednesday night. While announcing that he’s expanding the campaign against the Islamic State extremist group into Syria, Obama said flatly that this group, which is trying to install a caliphate in the Middle East, “is not Islamic.” He didn’t say they are perverting their religion; he said they’re not even part of that religion.
“No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of [the Islamic State's] victims have been Muslim,” Obama said.
While the rest of his speech avoided polarizing language, this statement stands out. That’s because it’s very polarizing. And, in fact, Americans are more inclined to disagree with Obama on this point.
A Pew Research Center poll released just hours before Obama’s speech showed that 50 percent of Americans see Islam as a religion that “is more likely than others to encourage violence among its believers.” The figure’s up sharply from earlier this year and is the highest since Pew started asking that question in 2002.