9/11 Anniversary Marked By Anger, Controversy

Solemn memorials and noisy, often angry demonstrations marked the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Solemn memorials and noisy, often angry, demonstrations mark the ninth anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks. President Obama was at the Pentagon. Michelle Obama and Laura Bush went to a memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. And while many Americans breathed a sigh of relief that a promised Quran burning in Florida did not come off, the possibility triggered protests in Afghanistan.

NPR's Margot Adler reports from New York, where it was a day of both remembrance and politics.

MARGOT ADLER: Most of the ceremonies marking this ninth anniversary went as planned. Bells tolled at Ground Zero and moments of silence marked the times the planes hit the towers and the times the towers fell. The almost 3,000 names were read, names that were from as many cultures as New York.

Unidentified Woman #1: Joanne Marie Alotioti(ph).

Unidentified Woman #2: Shabir Ahmed(ph).

Unidentified Woman #1: Tervus Andrea Akin(ph).

ADLER: This year, the names were read by family members and by architects, iron and construction workers that are building the memorial at Ground Zero. New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg said no other tragedy had cut the city so deeply. He talked about compassion, love and solidarity.

Mr. MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Mayor, New York City): It is with the strength of these emotions, as well as the concrete, glass and steel that is brought in day by day that we will build on the footprints of the past the foundation of the future.

ADLER: None of the politicians speaking at the ceremony mentioned politics. Most read poetry. Yet, this 9/11 will go down as the most political of the 9/11 remembrances, mainly because of the controversy surrounding the proposed Islamic cultural center two and a half blocks from Ground Zero. Many civic groups and September 11th families asked people not to protest on the 11th. Some groups agreed; some did not.

Almost 2,000 people gathered for a vigil Friday night near the proposed center, many holding lit candles, some waving American flags.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Hey, Americans, do you think you'll ever learn. It's only fear that feeds the fire and makes your anger burn.

ADLER: The event was sponsored by New York Neighbors for American Values, a coalition of civic, religious and civil rights organizations formed to support the right of the cultural center to go forward. James Forbes, the senior minister emeritus of the Riverside Church, said the ground here is sacred but any celebration of sacredness must not desecrate what is sacred to others.

Mr. JAMES FORBES (Senior Minister Emeritus, Riverside Church): And my God has told me that whenever I claim sacredness, I must make sure that it does not lead to the diminishment of the value and the work of my brothers and sisters of all sorts of religious traditions.

ADLER: On Saturday afternoon, pro and anti-mosque groups rallied near the proposed cultural center, between one and two thousand people at each. And it was back to politics as usual. The pro-mosque rally could've taken place at any time - with its calls for jobs, the end of war and racism, and chants of no justice, no peace.

The anti-mosque rally by the group Stop the Islamization of America had signs saying Islam and Shariah law were dangerous. There were fewer signs, more American flags and don't tread on me flags were abundant. Bill Shields, a flower seller from Connecticut, was holding one of them. He came to oppose the mosque.

Mr. BILL SHIELDS: Putting that mosque in this area, at this particular place, is akin to erecting a statue to Enola Gay in Nagasaki. It can't happen.

ADLER: Outside of the two orderly demonstrations, there was a crazy, almost carnival atmosphere. There were Christian groups in moving trucks calling people to repent, an anti-abortion rally blowing trumpets on another corner and a line of moving people with signs disputing the 9/11 attacks.

Police were out in force, keeping demonstrators in pinned areas. 45 Park Place, the site of the proposed Islamic center, was completely blocked off. But in some fenced-in areas, pro and anti-mosque people were together in one spot, and there were verbal skirmishes. Here is Gene Wagner and Terrence Roots(ph) arguing over the Quran.

Mr. GENE WAGNER: When you disguise that as a religion - that's not a religion, bro. That's hate.

Mr. TERRENCE ROOTS: (Unintelligible). You never read the Quran.

Mr. WAGNER: I can't read it because I'm not Arabic, so I can't...

ADLER: That was one of several arguments I heard. It all seemed a little inappropriate for a day of solemn remembrance. Last night, the towers of light lit up the night sky, visible for miles.

In a few days, or perhaps not until after the election, this day will again be remembered only for its ceremonies.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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