On 9/11 Anniversary, Obama Preaches Religious Tolerance

This morning President Obama attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, VA, commemorating 9/11 the day after he addressed controversies over Islam--the Park 51 community center near Ground Zero, and pastor Terry Jones's Koran-burning designs in Florida--in the first press conference he's held since July.

One part of his speech (which was brief) stuck out as a clear continuation of the points he made at Friday's news conference. From his speech today:

They may wish to drive us apart, but we will not give in to their hatred and prejudice.  For Scripture teaches us to "get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice."

They may seek to spark conflict between different faiths, but as Americans we are not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam.  It was not a religion that attacked us that September day -- it was al Qaeda, a sorry band of men which perverts religion.  And just as we condemn intolerance and extremism abroad, so will we stay true to our traditions here at home as a diverse and tolerant nation.  We champion the rights of every American, including the right to worship as one chooses -- as service members and civilians from many faiths do just steps from here, at the very spot where the terrorists struck this building.

Facing questions about national security, the war on terror, and the two major news storylines currently involving tensions between Americans and Islam, Obama on Friday made it clear that the U.S. is not at war with Islam, praising President Bush for making that same point soon after the 9/11 attacks.

One may have expected Obama to face more questions about the economy, which is the most pressing domestic issue facing the country and is expected to supersede any other issue, far and away, in the coming midterm elections.

But somehow the nation, and Obama with it, have been swept up in discussion of Islam instead, from the so-called Ground Zero mosque to Jones to the violent protests of Jones in the Muslim world to the rampant sentiment (according to Pew) among those who don't like Obama that the president himself is a Muslim.

So it was perhaps fitting, as Islam has consumed so much space in the news and the discussion of national opinions, that Obama made this point on consecutive days surrounding the anniversary of the terrorist attacks that have generally caused the tensions we're experiencing today.
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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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