Obama on 9/11: Stay true to who we are as Americans

In his 9/11 address at the Pentagon, President Obama asked Americans to honor the fallen by keeping alive the nation’s shared virtues and values.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, President Barack Obama, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates stand for the national anthem during a ceremony marking the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, at the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, September 11, 2010.

In a somber 9/11 ceremony at the Pentagon Saturday morning, President Obama urged Americans to honor the fallen by keeping alive the nation’s shared virtues and values.

“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,” he said.

Obama sounded a similar theme in his weekly radio/Internet address, in which he noted that September 11 has been designated a National Day of Service and Remembrance.

IN PICTURES: Revisiting Ground Zero

Without mentioning them directly, Obama hinted at current national challenges, including the economy, the proposal to build an Islamic center and mosque near ground zero in New York, and the recent threats by obscure religious sects to burn copies of Muslim holy book the Quran.

“This is a time of difficulty for our country,” he said. “And it is often in such moments that some try to stoke bitterness – to divide us based on our differences, to blind us to what we have in common. But on this day, we are reminded that at our best, we do not give in to this temptation. We stand with one another. We fight alongside one another. We do not allow ourselves to be defined by fear, but by the hopes we have for our families, for our nation, and for a brighter future.”

On the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the current and immediate past administrations were prominently represented at commemorative events held at the sites of those attacks. Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the event in Manhattan near ground zero. First lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush both spoke at the ceremony in Shanksville, Pa., where Flight 93 went down when passengers fought back against hijackers bent on crashing the aircraft into the Capitol.

“To this day, they remind us – not just by how they gave their lives, but by how they lived their lives – that being a hero is not just a matter of fate, it’s a matter of choice,” Mrs. Obama said. “It is truly my prayer today that in the years ahead, all who come here – and all of you – may be filled with the hope that is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Though you may have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up’.”

In recent days, and at a time when attacks on American Muslims and mosques have increased, President Obama has been seeking to promote religious tolerance.

“You know, we have to make sure that we don’t start turning on each other,” Obama said at his press conference Friday. “And I will do everything I can, as long as I am 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.”

Of Al Qaeda and its allies, he told those gathered at the Pentagon Saturday:

“They may seek to spark conflict between different faiths, but as Americans we are not – and never will be – at war with Islam,” he declared, echoing what former president George Bush said shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. “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.”

IN PICTURES: Revisiting Ground Zero

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