Grieving families take both sides in mosque controversy
Divisions make this Sept. 11th more contentious
NEW YORK — They will read the names, of course, the names of every victim who died in the Sept. 11 attacks. The bells will ring. And then that moment of unity will give way to division as activists hoist signs and march, some for and some against a planned mosque two blocks from ground zero.
This 9/11 is more political and contentious than the eight before it, with grieving family members on opposite sides of the mosque battle.
The debate became so heated that President Obama felt the need to remind Americans: “We are not at war against Islam.’’
Still, there were signs yesterday that religious tensions were abating, and that hushed tones would replace the harsh rhetoric that threatened to overshadow the commemoration of the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington, and Shanksville, Pa.
The son of an anti-Muslim pastor in Florida confirmed that his father would not — at least for now — burn copies of the Koran, a plan that inflamed much of the Muslim world and drew a stern rebuke from Obama.
But Terry Jones got on a plane headed to New York, according to an acquaintance, K.A. Paul; the flight that Paul said Jones would be on landed Friday night, but there was no immediate sign of the pastor at the airport. Jones has said he wants to meet with the imam behind the proposed mosque.
Activists in New York insisted their intentions were peaceful.
“It’s a rally of remembrance for tens of thousands who lost loved ones that day,’’ said Pamela Geller, a conservative blogger and host of the anti-mosque demonstration. “It’s not a political event, it’s a human rights event.’’
The site of the proposed mosque and Islamic center is already used for services, but it was padlocked yesterday, closed until tomorrow. Police guarded the block, and worshipers were redirected to a different prayer room 10 blocks away.
Some supporters planned a vigil near the proposed Islamic center’s site yesterday evening instead of today, saying they wanted to avoid entangling the mosque controversy and the Sept. 11 observance.
For Jones, pastor of a 50-member Pentecostal church in Florida, it was to be a day to burn the Koran. He backed off that threat after drawing protests across the Muslim world, a call from the secretary of defense, and impassioned pleas to call it off from religious and political leaders and his own daughter.
“There will be no Koran burning tomorrow,’’ Jones’s 29-year old son, Luke, told reporters outside his father’s Gainesville church yesterday. He added that he could not predict what might happen in the future.
Terry Jones had previously said he would cancel his plan if the leader of the planned New York Islamic center, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, would agree to move the project to another location. As on other 9/11 anniversaries, official ceremonies were planned at the three locations where the terrorists struck. Obama will be at the Pentagon, Vice President Joe Biden will go to New York, and Michelle Obama and Laura Bush will travel to Shanksville.
Obama said at a White House press conference that Sept. 11 would be an excellent time for the country to reflect on the fact that there are millions of Muslims who are American citizens, that they also are fighting in US uniforms in Afghanistan, and “we don’t differentiate between ‘them’ and ‘us.’ It’s just ‘us.’ ’’
Biden will attend the largest commemoration, at a park near ground zero, where 2,752 people were killed after Muslim extremists flew planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Houses of worship in the city will toll bells at 8:46 a.m., when the first plane struck the north tower, and three more times to mark the moment the second plane hit the south tower and to observe the times each tower fell.
Activists are organizing two rallies — one against the planned Islamic center, one supporting it — to follow the ceremony.
Sally Regenhard, who lost her firefighter son, Christian, planned to attend the morning ceremony and the anti-mosque protest.
“The purpose is to speak out and express our feelings that this mosque, the location of it, is a grievous offense to the sensitivity of 9/11 families,’’ Regenhard said. “There’s nothing political about people who want to speak out against something they think is so wrong, so hurtful and so devastating.’’
But Donna Marsh O’Connor, whose pregnant daughter, Vanessa, was killed in the attacks, supports the mosque. She said she strongly opposes the anti-mosque rally and the political motivations behind it.
“It’s more of the same hate-mongering and fear-mongering that’s been going on for years,’’ O’Connor said. “People have a right to free speech. But if they’re talking about sensitivities to 9/11 families, why are they rallying and doing events on a day we should spend thinking about those we lost?’’
John Bolton, who was US ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, was expected to send a video message of support to the anti-mosque rally.