Sept. 10 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama said tomorrow’s anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is a time for Americans to honor religious freedoms and “rekindle that spirit of unity and common purpose,” felt nine years ago.
He again defended the right of Muslims to build an Islamic center and mosque within blocks of the World Trade Center site in New York, saying it goes to the heart of fundamental U.S. freedoms.
“I’ve got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan in the uniform of the United States armed services,” Obama said at a White House news conference. “Part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that we don’t differentiate between them and us. It’s just us.”
The president called the anniversary “an excellent time for us to reflect on that.”
This year’s commemoration of the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history has become entangled in controversies about plans to build an Islamic center near the site where extremists slammed two hijacked airliners into New York City’s World Trade Center and a Florida pastor’s threat to burn the Muslim holy book on the anniversary.
The president has come under criticism for his defense of plans for the mosque and joined in the world-wide condemnation of the Koran-burning plan.
Obama, who early in his presidency sought a “new beginning” between the West and the Muslim world, repeated today that the U.S. is “not at war against Islam.” He the U.S. must send a clear message to the world that it is fighting “against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts.”
While saying that freedom of religion is a central tenet of the country, Obama said, “I recognize the extraordinary sensitivities around 9/11.”
He said Americans would be joining victims in “prayer and remembrance.”
Official ceremonies are planned for tomorrow at the three sites where the terrorists crashed the hijacked planes in 2001. The president tomorrow will speak and participate at a wreath laying ceremony at the Pentagon Memorial near Washington. Vice President Joe Biden will attend a ceremony at the World Trade Center site, while first lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush are scheduled to attend a service in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Making Life Difficult
Obama said the Florida pastor who had planned to hold a Koran burning on the anniversary is making “life a lot more difficult” for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries. He called the pastor’s actions “provocative in ways that we know can inflame the passions of over a billion Muslims around the world.”
The pastor, Terry Jones, has put off the burning and issued an ultimatum to the New York imam behind the Islamic center plan. Jones told reporters outside his Gainesville church today that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf had until this afternoon to contact him about moving the site of the center.
In defending the right of Muslims to build the center, Obama said the U.S. stands for the right to practice religion freely.
“If you could build a church on a site, you could build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, then you should be able to build a mosque on a site,” Obama said. “We are not at war against Islam.”
--With assistance from Nicholas Johnston, Roger Runningen and Jeff Bliss in Washington. Editors: Joe Sobczyk, Bob Drummond.
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