President Obama warned Europeans "not to simply respond with a hammer" in working against radicalization among its Muslim populations, and argued that the United States had an advantage on this front because American Muslims are better integrated into society.
“Our Muslim populations, they feel themselves to be Americans. There is, you know, this incredible process of immigration and assimilation that is part of our tradition that is probably our greatest strength,” Obama said Friday, as he stood next to British Prime Minister David Cameron at a news conference. “There are parts of Europe in which that's not the case, and that's probably the greatest danger that Europe faces.”
The comments were an unusually public bit of cultural analysis and counsel at a forum typically reserved for demonstrations of support and solidarity. In this case, Cameron politely disagreed with the American president's assessment of immigrant communities in the United Kingdom.
Obama went on to urge caution as European law enforcement authorities conduct broad counterterrorism sweeps in Belgium, France and Germany, a response to the recent terrorist attacks in France. The president suggested the crackdowns, along with economic disadvantages, would add to a sense of alienation among Muslim communities and feed their recruitment by jihadist groups.
“It's important for Europe not to simply respond with a hammer and law enforcement and military approaches to these problems, but there also has to be a recognition that the stronger the ties of a North African -- or a Frenchman of North African descent -- to French values, French republic, a sense of opportunity, that's going to be as important, if not more important, in, over time, solving this problem,” he said.
Cameron, who was at the White House for a brief visit, pushed back gently on the notion that the problem of radicalization could be blamed on immigration woes. The United Kingdom is "a multiracial, multi-ethnic society of huge opportunity," he said.
“You can have, tragically, people who have had all the advantages of integration, who've had all the economic opportunities that our countries can offer, who still get seduced by this poisonous, radical, death cult of a narrative," Cameron said.
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