Violent extremists who are killing children and others in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria and other parts of the world may cite Islam as a justification, but the West should be careful about calling them Islamic radicals, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Friday at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Speaking at the same forum a day earlier, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi told the audience of opinion leaders that his religion needed a reboot to remove extremism from its midst.
In a speech calling for a global effort against violent extremism, Kerry said it would be a mistake to link Islam to criminal conduct rooted in alienation, poverty, thrill-seeking and other factors.
“We have to keep our heads,” Kerry said. “The biggest error we could make would be to blame Muslims for crimes…that their faith utterly rejects,” he added.
“We will certainly not defeat our foes by vilifying potential partners,” the top US diplomat said. “We may very well fuel the very fires that we want to put out.”
Sissi said on Thursday that Egypt and France battle the same enemy by waging war against Islamic extremism and terrorism.
Islam is a tolerant religion, he said, but in the past two to three decades it has become more associated with violent extremism.
“The terrible terrorist attacks which we have seen and this terrible image of Muslims is what led us to think that we must stop and think and change the religious discourse, and remove from it things that have led to violence and extremism,” Sissi said.
“We need a new discourse that will be adapted to a new world and will remove some of the misconceptions,” he said. “No one should believe that they have the truth with a capital T.”
The crowds who took to the streets of France in the wake of the militant attacks that claimed 17 victims are an “extension” of the massive 2013 demonstrations against Egypt’s former Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, he said. The rallies prompted Sissi, then the defense minister, to oust Morsi.
“The blood that terrorists spill in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Nigeria, Mali, Canada, France or Lebanon is all of the same color,” Sissi told the World Economic Forum in Davos, his first major speech in such a setting. “We must therefore mobilize all our efforts to eliminate the menace wherever it exists.”
Sissi spoke just days before the anniversary of the January 25, 2011 uprising that ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
The Egyptian president has faced international and domestic pressure, even from among allies, to ease his crackdown on protests and dissidents that has reached well beyond the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists. He said Muslims must seek change from within.
“We also need to work seriously and continuously to meet the demands of the two Egyptian revolutions,” he said, addressing the economic challenges that have followed. That must occur, he added, within a framework that “guarantees the rights of Egyptians to employment and decent life.”
Egypt continues to struggle with a bulging budget deficit and capital flight while more than half the population lives at or below the poverty line of $2 a day. Sissi had pledged to improve Egypt’s economic stability within two years.