NEW YORK (AP) — They will read the names, of course, the names of every victim who died in the Sept. 11 attacks. The bells will ring. And then that moment of unity will give way to division as activists hoist signs and march, some for and some against a planned mosque two blocks from ground zero.
This 9/11 is more political and contentious than the eight before it, with grieving family members on opposite sides of the mosque battle.
The debate became so heated that President Barack Obama felt the need to remind Americans: “We are not at war against Islam.”
Still, there were signs Friday that religious tensions were abating, and that hushed tones would replace the harsh rhetoric that threatened to overshadow the commemoration of the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pa.
The son of an anti-Muslim pastor in Florida confirmed that his father would not — at least for now — burn copies of the Koran, a plan that inflamed much of the Muslim world and drew a stern rebuke from Obama.
Activists in New York insisted their intentions were peaceful.
“It’s a rally of remembrance for tens of thousands who lost loved ones that day,” said Pamela Geller, a conservative blogger and host of the anti-mosque demonstration. “It’s not a political event, it’s a human rights event.”
The site of the proposed mosque and Islamic center is already used for services, but it was padlocked Friday, closed until Sunday. Police guarded the block, and worshippers were redirected to a different prayer room 10 blocks away.
Some supporters planned a vigil near the proposed Islamic center’s site Friday evening instead of Saturday, saying they wanted to avoid entangling the mosque controversy and the Sept. 11 observance.
Organizers “believe that tomorrow is a day for mourning and remembrance,” said Jennifer Carnig, a spokeswoman for the New York Civil Liberties Union, one of the vigil’s sponsors.
For Terry Jones, pastor of a 50-member Pentecostal church in Florida, it was to be a day to burn the Koran. He backed off that threat after drawing angry protests across the Muslim world, a call from the secretary of defense and impassioned pleas to call it off from religious and political leaders and his own daughter.
“There will be no Koran burning tomorrow,” Jones‘ 29-year old son, Luke Jones, told reporters outside his father’s Gainesville church Friday. He added that he could not predict what might happen in the future.
Terry Jones had previously said he would cancel his plan if the leader of the planned New York Islamic center, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, would agree to move the project to another location.
Rauf, however, said that wasn’t true, either, that he had no plans to meet with Jones, although he added in a statement Friday that he is open to seeing anyone “seriously committed to pursuing peace.”