The speech began with comments about last week’s shooting in San Bernardino, California, into which the investigation is still ongoing.
Obama said that, so far, there is no evidence that the shooters, Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, belonged to any specific Islamist terrorist group.
However, he said, it is clear that the two had “gone down the dark path of radicalization…embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam”. It is believed Farook had contact with people from at least two terrorist organizations overseas, and last week it was reported that Malik had pledged allegiance to ISIS in a Facebook posting.
“This was an act of terrorism, designed to kill innocent people,” Obama said of the California shooting, adding, “Our nation has been at war with terrorists since Al-Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11.”
“I have authorized U.S. forces to take out terrorists abroad precisely because I know how real the danger is. As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than the security of the American people,” he continued.
“The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it,” he declared. “We will destroy [ISIS] and any other terrorist group that tries to harm us.”
In addition to the air strikes against ISIS in the Middle East, said Obama, there are other steps that Congress can take at home to fight the group.
“Congress should act to make sure no one on a No Fly List is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon?” he said.
In addition, the president continued, “We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino. If Congress believes, as I do, that we are at war with [ISIS], it should…vote to authorize the continued use of military force.”
But, Obama warned, “We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam.”
ISIS, he claimed “does not speak for Islam; they are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death; and they account for a tiny fraction of…Muslims.”
“Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim,” said Obama.
“It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It is our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently,” he added, in a possible reference to recent objections by state governors to admit Syrian refugees over security fears.
“My fellow Americans, I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history,” he continued. “Let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional. Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear.”