Obama Calls for Unity Ahead of September 11 Anniversary
By Stephen Kaufman
Washington — On the eve of the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President Obama said the enemies of the United States are the extremists who have perverted the Islamic religion, not the Islamic faith, and he urged Americans to reassert that they will not be divided by religion or ethnicity even as the threat from terrorism continues.
“We are not at war against Islam. We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts,” the president said September 10 ( http://www.america.gov/st/texttrans-english/2010/September/20100910152603su0.1495478.html ) at a White House press conference.
“The overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world are peace-loving,” he said, and share an interest in improving their own well-being and that of their children, while overwhelmingly rejecting the violent ideology championed by al-Qaida, which carried out the 2001 attacks.
“We want to be clear about who the enemy is here. It’s a handful, a tiny minority of people who are engaging in horrific acts and have killed Muslims more than anybody else,” he told the journalists assembled at the White House.
Obama praised his predecessor, President George W. Bush, who in the aftermath of the terror attacks had made a clear distinction between the vast majority of Muslims and the relative few who advocate violence.
“I was so proud of the country rallying around that idea, that notion: that we are not going to be divided by religion; we’re not going to be divided by ethnicity; we are all Americans; we stand together against those who would try to do us harm,” Obama said.
“I think it is absolutely important now for the overwhelming majority of the American people to hang onto that thing that is best in us: a belief in religious tolerance [and] clarity about who our enemies are,” he said.
The president’s call for Americans to uphold the ideals of religious tolerance and unity came in response to questions about whether a Muslim group in the United States should proceed with plans to build a community center and mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center, and a Florida preacher’s threats to burn copies of the Muslim holy book, the Quran ( http://www.america.gov/st/democracyhr-english/2010/September/20100909101507dmslahrellek0.3517115.html ). His remarks also came as Muslims around the world celebrate Eid ul-Fitr ( http://www.america.gov/st/texttrans-english/2010/September/20100909133316su0.8121149.html ).
“If you could build a church on a site, [if] 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 the site,” the president said in regards to the proposed community center.
“With respect to the individual down in Florida, let me just say … the idea that we would burn the sacred texts of someone else’s religion is contrary to what this country stands for. It’s contrary to what … this nation was founded on,” he said.
Along with citing the need to live up to the ideals and freedoms enshrined in America’s founding documents, Obama said that millions of Muslim Americans coexist in the United States as neighbors, friends, co-workers and members of the U.S. armed forces.
“They are Americans. And we honor their service. And part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that we don’t differentiate between ‘them’ and ‘us.’ It’s just ‘us,’” he said, adding that the anniversary of the 2001 attacks “is an excellent time for us to reflect on that.”
MIDDLE EAST PEACE “A RISK WORTH TAKING”
Asked about recently resumed direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, the president said both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had come to the September 1–2 discussions in Washington “with a sense of purpose and seriousness and cordiality that … exceeded a lot of people’s expectations.”
But Obama said he is well aware of the difficulties that stand in the way of a final peace agreement, including those in the region who are actively seeking to undermine the negotiations through violence, as well as cynics who do not believe that the gap in trust between the two sides can be bridged. Nevertheless, Obama said the United States is “actively participating” in the negotiating process and will work to further discussions and stand behind the parties as needed.
“It’s a risk worth taking because the alternative is a status quo that is unsustainable. And so if these talks break down, we’re going to keep on trying,” he said.
He urged Abbas and Netanyahu to help each other with their respective political constituencies to help facilitate difficult decisions that will be made.
The president said he had told Netanyahu that “it makes sense” to extend Israel’s moratorium on settlement construction while discussions are moving forward, since a final agreement on the borders between Israel and a Palestinian state would allow the construction of “anything that the people of Israel see fit, in undisputed areas.”
Likewise, “one of the things that I’ve said to President Abbas is you’ve got to show the Israeli public that you are serious and constructive in these talks so that the politics for Prime Minister Netanyahu, if he were to extend the settlement moratorium, would be a little bit easier,” he said.
“The two parties need each other” in order to create a Palestinian state and maintain Israel’s existence as both a democratic and a Jewish state, the president said.
“We understood that it was a risk for us to promote these discussions. But it is a risk worth taking, because I firmly believe that … it is in America’s national security interests, as well as Israel’s national security interests, as well as in the interests of the Palestinian people, to arrive at a peace deal,” he said.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)