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Obama Says US Not in 'Religious War' Against Radical Islamists; Sen. Graham Asserts the Opposite

Obama Says US Not in 'Religious War' Against Radical Islamists; Sen. Graham Asserts the Opposite

U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden (R) arrive at the armed services farewell in honor of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia, January 28, 2015. | (Photo: Reuters/Yuri Gripas)

President Barack Obama said he rejects the notion that the war on terrorism is any kind of "religious war" against radical Islam, and that the U.S. should align itself with the 99.9 percent of Muslims who are also looking for peace and prosperity.

"There is an element growing out of Muslim communities, in certain parts of the world, that have perverted the religion, have embraced an annihilistic, violent, almost medieval interpretation of Islam," Obama said Sunday on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS."

The president acknowledged that they are doing damage in a lot of countries around the world.

"But it is absolutely true that I reject a notion that somehow that creates a religious war, because the overwhelming majority of Muslims reject that interpretation of Islam," he said. "They don't even recognize it as being Islam. And I think that for us to be successful in fighting this scourge … is very important for us to align ourselves with the 99.9% of Muslims who are looking for the same thing we're looking for — order, peace, prosperity."

Republicans do not agree with Obama. "We are in a religious war with radical Islamists," Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Fox News earlier this month. "When I hear the President of the United States and his chief spokesperson failing to admit that we're in a religious war, it really bothers me."

However, Obama said he doesn't "quibble with labels."

"I think we all recognize that this is a particular problem that has roots in Muslim communities," he said. "But I think we do ourselves a disservice in this fight if we are not taking into account the fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslims reject this ideology."

Obama also said that Washington needs to "maintain a proper perspective and that we do not provide a victory to these terrorist networks by over-inflating their importance and suggesting in some fashion that they are an existential threat to the United States or the world order."

He added that "we have the capacity to control how we respond in ways that do not undercut what's the essence of who we are. That means that we don't torture, for example, and thereby undermine our values and credibility around the world."

The president went on to say the American strategy should not be that "of sending out occupying armies and playing whack-a-mole wherever a terrorist group appears because that drains our economic strength and it puts enormous burdens on our military."

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee recently took on Obama's plans to fight climate change, saying that beheadings by the terror group ISIS is a "greater threat to an American than a sunburn."

"Not to diminish anything about the climate at all, but Mr. President, I believe that most of us would think that a beheading is a far greater threat to an American than a sunburn. I wish he understood that we have a real enemy with just long – Islamic jihadism," Huckabee said at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines earlier this month.

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