WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Saturday recalled “that awful morning” nine years ago when “a sorry band of men” who perverted religion attacked the U.S. in hopes of demoralizing and dividing the country.
“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 president said at the Defense Department’s headquarters, where a hijacked plane slammed into the Pentagon, killing 184 people on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We will not give in to their hatred,” Obama said, despite the terrorists’ efforts to spark conflicts among faiths. “As Americans, we will not or ever be at war with Islam.”
This year’s remembrances of the 2001 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 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,” Obama said.
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.”
At a White House news conference Friday, Obama denounced the threatened Quran burning, said Muslims have the same right as any other religion to build near ground zero and appealed for religious tolerance. “We are not at war against Islam,” he said.
The Rev. Terry Jones backed away from his plan to burn the Muslim holy book, saying on NBC’s “Today” show Saturday that “God is telling us to stop.”
In the GOP’s weekly address, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., echoed Obama’s plea for a common purpose. Kyl called for the country to “recapture the unity that allowed us to come together as a nation to confront a determined enemy.”
Without mentioning the president by name, Kyl seemed to question the Obama administration’s commitment to the fight against terrorism begun by President George W. Bush. Obama recently declared an end to combat missions in Iraq even as he pledged to renew war-fighting efforts in Afghanistan and pursue al-Qaida terrorists.
“The fact that none of the subsequent attempts to attack us have succeeded seems to have removed some of the urgency and commitment so necessary to succeed in war,” Kyl said.