Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11; thousands packed the makeshift plaza alongside a construction site sprouting cranes and American flags on a crystal-clear morning for memorial and prayers services for the deceased. The names of the 3,000 victims were read while bells tolled at 8:46, the precise moment at which the first plane hit the north tower.
At the Pentagon, President Obama called for tolerance and said, “As Americans we are not — and never will be — at war with Islam,” as he addressed the ensuing debate over the construction of an Islamic Center near ground zero. During the ceremony, knots of protesters wandered the area, sometimes arguing. In the afternoon, a few blocks away, police officers and barricades separated demonstrations, both for and against the Muslim center, that each drew about 2,000 people.
The mosque debate pits advocates of religious freedom against critics who say putting an Islamic
center so close to ground zero disrespects the dead. While the rallies planned in New York embroiled victims’ family members in a feud over whether to play politics, a threat to burn copies of the Quran was apparently called off. The effects of which could be felt all the way in Afghanistan, where on Saturday shops and police checkpoints had been set afire as thousands of people protested the planned burning and chanted “Death to America” in Logar province. At least 11 people were injured Friday in similar protests in Badakhshan province.
In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, cleric Rusli Hasbi told 1,000 worshipers at Friday prayers that whether or not Jones burns the Quran, he already has “hurt the heart of the Muslim world.”
Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who had announced, and then suspended, plans to burn copies of the Koran, arrived in New York on Friday seeking a meeting with Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the proposed Muslim center. The pastor’s presence in the city, under police protection, only added to the day’s drama.
Nationally, speeches and memorial services were addressed a slew of national and international figures, ranging from former first lady Laura Bush to Michelle Obama. John R. Bolton, the former Unites States ambassador the UN, addressed a New York rally against the planned Muslim center via video, and Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who tried to ban the Koran in his country, described Islam as an intolerant “power of darkness,” saying, “We must draw the line, so that New York, rooted in Dutch tolerance, will never become New Mecca.”