Tensions flared over plans to build an Islamic community center near Ground Zero as rival demonstrations took place after family members of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks recited loved one’s names through tears at a somber ceremony marking the ninth anniversary of the attacks.
After Saturday’s official ceremony, about 2,000 activists rallied about five blocks from Ground Zero to support the proposed Islamic community center. About 1,500 opponents gathered nearby, chanting “USA, USA” and “No mosque [sic] here.”
In an annual tradition, two bright blue beams of light rose from lower Manhattan in memory of the fallen towers on Saturday night.
Speaking at the Pentagon, where 184 people died on Sept. 11, US President Barack Obama alluded to the controversy over the Islamic community center — and a Florida pastor’s threat, later rescinded, to burn copies of the Koran. Obama rejected the terrorists’ efforts to spark conflicts between faiths.
“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.
“As Americans we are not — and never will be — at war with Islam,” Obama said. “It was not a religion that attacked us that September day — it was al-Qaeda, a sorry band of men which perverts religion.”
Shortly after the city’s service, groups of protesters took up positions in lower Manhattan, blocks apart and representing both sides of the debate over the Islamic center, which has roiled US politics for weeks leading up to the anniversary. The debate pits advocates of religious freedom against critics who say putting an Islamic center so close to Ground Zero disrespects the dead.
Near New York City Hall, supporters of the center toted signs, including one that read: “The attack on Islam is racism.”
Opponents carried placards that read, “Stop Obama’s Mosque [sic]” and “Never forgive, never forget, no WTC mosque [sic].”
There were no arrests in New York, police said. There were scattered scuffles in the streets, including one in which a man ripped up another’s poster advocating freedom of religion and the second man struck back with the stick.
Many sought to embrace unity and a spirit of reaching out, which is what the developers of the Islamic center have said is their goal.
Meanwhile, copies of the Koran were desecrated in three instances — one behind the gates of a Christian compound in Kansas, one at a public park in front of the White House and a third in front of cameras not far from Ground Zero — despite the cancellation of a controversial attempt to burn the Islamic holy book by a Florida Christian congregation leader.
Lending credence to Pastor Terry Jones’ cancellation of the burning, a “Burn a Koran Day” banner outside his Florida church was taken down.
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