Americans must not turn on one another over Islam: Obama

2010-09-11 08:31

US. − An impassioned President Barack Obama has warned Americans not to turn on one another over religion amid a spate of rows over Islam in US society, nine years after the September 11 attacks.

Obama also mounted a strident defence of American Muslims yesterday, paid tribute to believers who were fighting in US armed forces, and said Americans must remember who their true enemies were – naming al-Qaeda and “terrorists”.

The president has vowed to forge a “new beginning” with Islam, but tensions have been sparked by a plan to build a Muslim cultural centre near the felled World Trade Centre in New York and a US pastor’s threat to burn Korans.

“We have to make sure that we don’t start turning on each other,” Obama said at a White House news conference on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

“And I will do everything that I can as long as I’m president of the United States to remind the American people that we are one nation under God and we may call that God different names, but we remain one nation.

“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, a clarity about who our enemies are,” Obama said.

“Our enemies are al-Qaeda and their allies who are trying to kill us but have killed more Muslims than just about any body on earth.”

The president also reaffirmed the right for Muslim believers to build the cultural centre, which includes a mosque near the “Ground Zero” site in New York, though said he understood the sensitivities.

“We are not at war against Islam. We are at war against terrorist organisations that have distorted Islam and falsely used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts,” Obama said.

“We have got to be clear about that. If we are going to successfully reduce the terrorist threat then we need all the allies we can get,” Obama said, in a unequivocal, emotional statement at the end of the appearance.

Obama warmly praised former president George W Bush, whom he regularly assails over the economy, for his efforts to ensure the 2001 attacks did not whip up a severe backlash against Muslim Americans.

And he branded a threat by Florida pastor Terry Jones to burn Korans as “un-American” and warned people should not “play games” with US troops in war zones in Muslim countries.

Obama called the news conference to press home the case for his economic recovery plans, as his Democrats face a Republican wave that may challenge their congressional majorities in November’s election.

“The hole the recession left was huge and progress has been painfully slow,” Obama said, capping a week in which he has launched an energetic campaign ahead of the congressional polls.

“These proposals are meant to accelerate job growth in short term,” he said, touting plans to revive small business and tackle the 9.6% unemployment rate.

Obama also talked about the direct Middle East peace talks he mediated last week between Israel and the Palestinians saying they “exceeded expectations”.

He said he had told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that it made sense to extend a moratorium on settlement building which expires this month.

But he conceded that the step was politically very difficult for Netanyahu, and urged Palestinians to demonstrate to Israelis that they were serious about peace moves, to make the decision easier.

Palestinians have threatened to walk out of peace talks if the moratorium is not extended.

Obama conceded that pushing both sides into talks was going to be “tough” and may not produce results soon, but was a risk worth taking.

The president also said he would keep up the pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to tackle widespread corruption.

Obama said every time he spoke to Karzai, he reminded him the “only way you are going to have a stable government over the long term is if the Afghan people feel you are looking out for them.”

“And that means making sure that the tradition of corruption in the government is reduced,” he said.

Meanwhile, an ally of a small Florida church said yesterday that the planned burning of the Koran on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks had been “100%” cancelled.

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