President Obama stressed that America was not at war with Islam as he decried the "sorry band of men" who attacked the nation nine years ago in memorial ceremonies at the Pentagon on Saturday.
"The perpetrators of this evil act didn't simply attack America; they attacked the very idea of America itself -- all that we stand for and represent in the world," Obama said. "And so 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."
The president spoke at the Pentagon ceremonies while first lady Michelle Obama spoke along with former first lady Laura Bush at the site in Shanksville, Pa., where 40 were killed on United Flight 93 when passengers overtook the hijackers and drove the plane into the ground.
Michelle Obama lauded the former first lady "for all her work to help the nation heal in the days and months after the attack."
Vice President Joe Biden joined remembrance ceremonies at Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center towers were felled. More than 2,600 were killed in the attacks on the landmark buildings, and 147 died on the two planes that struck the towers. The victims of all the attacks hailed from 80 different countries.
With the backdrop of recent controversies that overshadowed the run-up to the ninth anniversary -- a mosque project that has drawn bitter protests near Ground Zero and a Florida pastor's plans to burn Qurans that sparked deadly protests in Afghanistan -- Obama implored Americans to "not sacrifice the liberties we cherish or hunker down behind walls of suspicion and mistrust."
"They may wish to drive us apart, but we will not give in to their hatred and prejudice," he said. "For Scripture teaches us to 'get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.'
"They may seek to spark conflict between different faiths, but as
Americans we are not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam. 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."
Obama said that "we will keep alive the virtues and values that make us who we are and who we must always be."