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Obama: We Must Change The Narrative On Islam To Combat Violent Extremists

In a keynote address at a summit on violent extremism, President Obama said people of all faiths have to try to change the narrative that Islam is incompatible with a modern society, if the international community is to combat what he called a "generational challenge."

Obama said that this past Valentine's Day, he received a note from an 11-year-old Muslim-American girl.

She wrote that she enjoyed being an American and that she wants to be an engineer or a basketball player. She also told the president that she was worried that people hated Muslims and he wanted him to tell the world that, "we are good people and we are just like everyone else."

"Those are the words and wisdom of a little girl growing up in America, just like my girls are growing up in America," Obama said.

The antidote to violent extremism, Obama said, is to lift up the voices of people like that 11-year-old girl and Muslims who have been successful in the United States.

Those are the stories, Obama said, that groups like al-Qaida and the self-declared Islamic State would want to keep out of spotlight.

Obama spoke during a week-long meeting that is focused on fighting home-grown terror. As our friends over at It's All Politics reported, today's sessions highlighted three pilot programs in "three American cities designed to combat recruiting by radical groups."

During his speech, Obama said that aside from changing the narrative on Islam, communities and governments must also do more to address the economic and political grievances that terrorists use to recruit vulnerable youth.

Obama said that, of course, there is a military component to this because there are things the Islamic State is doing that have to stop immediately. But in the long term, the way to end violent extremism is to "make it clear to all of the children that you have a place... that you have a place here in america... you have a future."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.