Obama said there was a complicated history between the Middle East and the West and no one should be immune from criticism over specific policies.
“But the notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie,” he said. “And all of us, regardless of our faith, have a responsibility to reject it,” he told an international conference in Washington on countering violent extremism.
“Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics, therefore have a responsibility to push back not just on twisted interpretations of Islam, but also on the lie that we are somehow engaged in a clash of civilisations,” Obama said.
With violent groups like Islamic State, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab gaining strength across the Middle East and Africa, more than 60 countries and international organisations have gathered in Washington to come up with a plan for tackling the problem.
Critics have accused the White House of shying away from tying extremism to the religion of Islam, especially following the recent attacks staged by Islamist militants in Paris and Copenhagen.
Addressing the conference, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he would convene a meeting in coming months of faith leaders from around the world and warned that violent extremism posed a grave threat to international peace and security.
“Military operations are crucial to confront real threats. But bullets are not the ‘silver bullet’,” Ban said. “Missiles may kill terrorists. But good governance kills terrorism.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry said countries needed to strengthen civil society and reach out to community leaders to promote tolerance and peace, and to confront economic inequality that makes it easier for militants to recruit.
Over the next few months he said the United States and other countries would take the battle to classrooms, houses of worship and vulnerable communities around the world.
“You have to do everything. You have to take the people off the battlefield, who are there today,” Kerry said.
“But you’re kind of stupid if all you do is do that, and you don’t prevent more people from going to the battlefield,” he added.
He called for more collaboration among countries to come up with a plan to prevent violent ideologies from talking hold.
“Some of our efforts are going to take place in public gatherings such as this, but everybody here understands that much of this work is going to be done quietly without fanfare in classrooms, in community centres, in work places, in houses of worship and in village markets,” Kerry added.