Has there ever been a more divisive 9-11 memorial day?
The one thing I will say about George Bush is that he was always careful to emphasise that the war on terror was not a war against Islam and that Islam is a religion of peace.
New York City woke up yesterday to a 9/11 anniversary like no other. Blue skies hummed with the buzz of helicopters as police conducted a major operation to patrol two rival midday protests about Park51, the planned Islamic centre close to Ground Zero. The noise of the aircraft mingled with the sound of church bells ringing across Manhattan, marking the exact time that the first plane struck the World Trade Centre.
Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who threatened to burn Qur'ans outside his church, the Dove World Outreach Centre in Gainesville, had arrived in the city overnight. Supposedly seeking a meeting with backers of the so-called "Ground Zero mosque", he told NBC's Today Show, "We have decided to cancel the burning. We will definitely not burn the Qur'an."
The protesters against the Islamic centre later gathered to hear the right-wing blogger Pamela Geller, who has spearheaded the drive against the project, as well as a host of Republican politicians.
Meanwhile the march in support of Park51, proclaiming the virtues of religious tolerance, wound its way from near City Hall to close to Ground Zero itself. The duelling demonstrations were in stark contrast to the official remembrance ceremony where relatives of the dead talked solemnly about the lives lost.
Since Bush stood down the American right wing have utterly forgotten the distinction which Bush was always very careful to make, and have started to openly protest against Islam itself.
Obama attempted to remind them of what this anniversary represents:
And, of course, the Pamela Geller's of this world are doing just that. They are forgetting that, in America, all religions have the right to practice freely. They have decided that their war is against Islam, rather than against what Obama called the "sorry band of men" who have distorted Islam for their own purposes.
President Obama stressed that America was not at war with Islam as he decried the "sorry band of men" who attacked the nation nine years ago in memorial ceremonies at the Pentagon on Saturday.
"The perpetrators of this evil act didn't simply attack America; they attacked the very idea of America itself -- all that we stand for and represent in the world," Obama said. "And so the highest honor we can pay those we lost, indeed our greatest weapon in this ongoing war, is to do what our adversaries fear the most -- to stay true to who we are, as Americans; to renew our sense of common purpose; to say that we define the character of our country, and we will not let the acts of some small band of murderers who slaughter the innocent and cower in caves distort who we are."
Shorn of Bush's insistence of whom this battle is against, the American right are wallowing in intolerance and scaremongering. It is a pathetic thing to witness.
I never thought Bush was a great leader. And yet, when I look at where the Republican party are heading without his influence, I can see that he did very well for many years to protect that party from the worst of it's own infantile world view. Bush's world view was overly simplistic - good versus evil, us versus "them" - but, in retrospect, I can see that the vision he offered is actually a good deal more nuanced than the one currently being embraced by the party he once led, where hatred has become what unites them, and fear of others is almost a rallying cry.
Terry Jones, a minor preacher in Florida, managed to create a major furor by scheduling a ritual burning of the Koran for Sept. 11. Alarmed by hyperbolic news coverage, the top general in Afghanistan, the secretary of defense, the State Department and the president warned that such a bonfire would endanger Americans and American troops around the world.
It was bad enough to see a fringe figure acting out for cable news and Web sites, but it was deeply disturbing to hear John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House, equate Mr. Jones’s antics with the Muslim center.
In both cases, he told ABC News, “Just because you have a right to do something in America does not mean it is the right thing to do.” The Constitution does, indeed, protect both, but they are not morally equivalent. In New York City, a group of Muslims is trying to build something. Mr. Jones and his supporters are trying to tear down more than two centuries of religious tolerance.
Obama is trying to encourage Americans to reach for what is best in themselves as a nation, to remember that it is diversity which gives the US it's strength. But the Boehner's, the Palin's and the Gingrich's are behaving like lunatic hucksters, encouraging Americans to see what is different about some of their fellow citizens, demanding that some citizens show that they are "decent" and "peaceful" by giving up their First Amendment rights.
What they are engaging in is simply hateful.
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