US President Barack Obama on Saturday marked the ninth anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks by declaring that America will ‘never be at war with Islam’ in a speech aimed at reducing tensions sparked by a florida pastor’s plan to burn copies of the Koran.
“Today we declare once more we will never hand them that victory.. for our cause is just, our spirit is strong and our resolve unwavering,” the US president said at a memorial service at the Pentagon, where 184 people were killed.
“They may seek to exploit our freedoms, but we will not sacrifice the liberties we cherish or hunker down behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. They may wish to drive us apart, but we will not give in to their hatred and prejudice,” Obama said, despite the terrorists’ efforts to spark conflicts among faiths.
He also added: “As Americans we are not – and never will be – at war with Islam. It was not a religion that attacked us that September day. It was Al-Qaeda, a sorry band of men which perverts religion.”
This year’s remembrances of the 2001 terror attacks took place with growing public suspicion of Muslims, an emotional dispute over an Islamic community center and mosque planned near Ground Zero in New York City, and a Florida pastor’s threat to burn Qurans.
“This is a time of difficulty for our country,” Obama said before the ceremony, in his radio, Tv and Internet address. “And it is often in such moments that some try to stoke bitterness — to divide us based on our differences, to blind us to what we have in common. But on this day, we are reminded that at our best, we do not give in to this temptation.”
With the war still raging against al-Qaida and the Taliban leaders harboring them in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the anniversary of the attacks provides a chance to reflect on what they have meant “for an entire generation of young Americans who answered the call to serve.”
The Reverend Terry Jones, who single-handedly created an international crisis with his planned “International Burn a Koran day”, finally confirmed he had pulled back from the brink after flying to New York from his home in Florida.
Having initially only postponed the event in protest at plans for an Islamic Centre and mosque close to Ground Zero, the Rev Jones said he had now cancelled it altogether.
The pastor, who has a congregation of just 50, told NBC’s Today show: “We feel that God is telling us to stop.” Pressed on whether his church would ever burn the Islamic holy book, he said: “Not today, not ever. We’re not going to go back and do it. It is totally cancelled.”
His publicity stunt overshadowed a series of solemn ceremonies held at Ground Zero in New York, the Pentagon and a crash site in Pennsylvania.
Rival rallies by groups supporting and opposing the disputed project were expected to take place once the official ceremonies at Ground Zero were over, breaking an unwritten rule that the anniversary should not be used as a springboard for political gain.
In New York, Vice President Joseph Biden joined thousands of people attending the annual ritual of reading the names of all 2,752 people killed when two hijacked airliners destroyed the Twin Towers.
The ceremony began with a youth choir singing the national anthem at Ground Zero, where reconstruction work has recently begun to gather pace for the first time.
Bereaved relatives held up portraits of their lost loved ones, as a bell was rung in remembrance ahead of moments of silence marking the times when the two airliners slammed into the Twin Towers – and again when the towers collapsed.
A third memorial service was held in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the fourth hijacked plane crashed into a field. First lady Michelle Obama was speaking at that service.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she joined “with all Americans in honouring those who lost their lives on that terrible day,” noting that lasting health effects continued to plague emergency responders and survivors. [via Telegraph (UK), Associated Press, CBS News]