Marking 9/11 at Pentagon, Obama says U.S. 'never' will be at war with Islam

With air traffic from Ronald Reagan National Airport threatening to drown out his words of remembrance, President Obama on Saturday commemorated the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the Pentagon.

Obama, joined by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, used the occasion to honor the fallen and call for national unity.

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With about 150 survivors, survivors' families and Defense Department officials in attendance on a pristine morning eerily reminiscent of that September morning, Obama touched on recent controversies, saying "as Americans we are not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam."

Recent controversies over a proposed mosque near Ground Zero and a pastor in Florida threatening to burn "a Koran a day" threatened to overshadow the ninth anniversary of the terror attacks.

But Obama, standing at the Pentagon memorial for the 184 people who were killed when American Airlines Flight 77 knifed into the West side of the building, said "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," Obama said. "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."

Somewhat uncharacteristically, Obama spent about 45 minutes after the event working the ropeline, shaking hands, posing for pictures and hugging members of the crowd.


"Those who attacked us sought to demoralize us, divide us, to deprive us of the very unity, the very ideals, that make America America -- those qualities that have made us a beacon of freedom and hope to billions around the world," Obama said. "Today we declare once more we will never hand them that victory.  As Americans, we will keep alive the virtues and values that make us who we are and who we must always be."

The president then spent the later part of the morning at Ron Brown Middle School in Northeast Washington, helping paint the school's multi-purpose room as part of the day of service.

At the Pentagon, with commercial airliners coming into view over the Pentagon and the speaking president after departing from Reagan, Obama said we honor the fallen by choosing "to stay true to our best selves -- as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

"Nine years have now passed," Obama said. "In that time, you have shed more tears than we will ever know.  And though it must seem some days as though the world has moved on to other things, I say to you today that your loved ones endure in the heart of our nation, now and forever."