Calls for Respect at Somber 9/11 Ceremony - NBC New York

Calls for Respect at Somber 9/11 Ceremony



    Police Commissioner Ray Kelly gives us his thoughts on 9/11. (Published Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010)

    Family of Sept. 11 victims recited loved ones' names through tears on the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, and the somber memorial service was followed by protests over a proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero -- an issue that had threatened to overshadow the normally subdued day.

    Elected officials and those reading at the ceremony pleaded for religious tolerance and respect for the nearly 3,000 people who perished in the 2001 attacks as two protests -- both for and against the Islamic center -- got under way shortly after the tribute ceremony.

    Around 1,000 people rallied in support of the Islamic Center building in its planned location about two blocks from Ground Zero. Toting signs saying, "The attack on Islam is racism'' and "Tea Party Bigots funded by corporate $,'' protesters gathered near City Hall and then marched closer to Ground Zero.

    The event was largely peaceful, except for occasional exchanges with anti-mosque passers-by.  One man walked by holding a poster that said, "Stop Obama's Mosque,'' while another held a more provocative sign with a Quran attached.

    Opponents of the mosque held their own rally with chants of "USA."  Some protesters wore hats emblazoned with stars and stripes; some carried signs with messages like "Never Forgive, Never Forget, No WTC Mosque."

    Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told NBCNewYork the NYPD was working to keep the dueling protests separate while still making "certain they can voice their opinions in a peaceful, orderly way."

    Speaking at  "hallowed ground'' at the Pentagon, President Barack Obama alluded to the controversy over a mosque -- and a Florida pastor's threat, later rescinded, to burn copies of the Muslim holy book. Obama made it clear that the U.S. is not at war with Islam and called the al-Qaida attackers "a sorry band of men'' who perverted religion.

    Reading victims' names along with rebuilders at Ground Zero in New York, they urged a restrained tone.

    "Let today never, ever be a national holiday. Let it not be a celebration,'' said Karen Carroll, who lost her brother, firefighter Thomas Kuveikis. "It's a day to be somber; it's a day to reflect on all those thousands of people that died for us in the United States.''

    Bagpipes and drums played to open the ceremony, followed by brief comments by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

    "Once again we meet to commemorate the day we have come to call 9/11. We have returned to this sacred site to join our hearts together, the names of those we loved and lost,'' Bloomberg said.

    "No other public tragedy has cut our city so deeply. No other place is as filled with our compassion, our love and our solidarity.''

    A moment of silence began at 8:46 a.m., the time the first hijacked jetliner hit the north tower of the World Trade Center in 2001. .

    But the rallies planned in New York embroiled victims' family members in a feud over whether to play politics on the ninth anniversary of the attacks.

    Elizabeth Meehan, a 51-year-old Christian from Saratoga, N.Y., rode in by bus from her home 180 miles away. "I'm really fearful of all of the hate that's going on in our country. People in one brand of Christianity are coming out against other faiths, and I find that so sad,'' she said. ``Muslims are fellow Americans; they should have the right to worship in America just like anyone else.''

    On the other side, Nancy Nee, whose firefighter brother was killed at the World Trade Center, is bitterly opposed to the Park51 proposed mosque and Islamic community center near ground zero.

    "I just wanted to be as at peace with everything that's going on as I possibly can," Nee said. Even nine years later, she said, her brother George Cain's death "is still very raw. ... And I just don't have it in me to be protesting and arguing, with anger in my heart and in my head."

    Jim Riches planned to pay respects at ground zero to his firefighter son, Jimmy, then rally.

    "My son can't speak anymore. He's been murdered by Muslims. I intend to voice my opinion against the location of this mosque," Riches said. "If someone wants to go home, that's their right. I have the right to go there."

    The heated mosque debate -- pitting advocates of religious freedom against critics who say that locating an Islamic center so close to ground zero disrespects the dead -- led Obama to remind Americans on Friday, "We are not at war against Islam."

    A threat to burn copies of the Muslim holy book on the anniversary -- which had set off international protests -- was on hold, after  Florida pastor who made the threat flew to New York and told NBC's Today show he had a change of heart.

    Jones previously had said he would cancel his plan if the leader of the proposed Islamic center, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, would agree to move the project to another location and had said he wanted to meet with Rauf in New York.

    Rauf said Friday he was "prepared to consider meeting with anyone who is seriously committed to pursuing peace" but had no such meeting planned with Jones.

    In Afghanistan, people took to the streets for a second day, setting fire to tires and chanting "Death to America."  In a country where most people have little access to media, many didn't know the burning had been called off. The Taliban has been distributing pamphlets decrying Jones' plans, claiming they showed the Americans were in Afghanistan to wage war against Islam.

    In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, cleric Rusli Hasbi told 1,000 worshippers at Friday prayers that whether or not Jones burns the Koran, he already has "hurt the heart of the Muslim world."

    John Bolton, who was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, was expected to send a videotaped message of support to the anti-mosque rally, as was conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart. Anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who advocates banning the Koran and taxing Muslim women who wear head scarves, planned to address the crowd in person, as do a handful of Republican congressional candidates who have made opposition to the mosque a centerpiece of their campaigns.

    Muslim prayer services are normally held at the site but it was padlocked Friday and would be closed today, the official end of the holy month of Ramadan. Police planned 24-hour patrols of the site until next week. Worshippers on Friday were redirected to a different prayer room 10 blocks away.

    While the president was at the Pentagon service today and the first lady joined former first lady Laura Bush at Shanksville, Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the New York ceremony, where 2,752 people were killed when two jetliners flew into the trade center.