By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2010 – Provocative acts such as burning Qurans – or even threats of such acts – endanger U.S. troops when they circulate widely on the Internet and rightfully gain the attention of senior leaders, President Barack Obama said today.
“There’s no doubt that when someone goes out of their way to be provocative in ways we know can enflame the passions of over a billion Muslims around the world when we have troops in Muslim countries, that’s a problem,” Obama told reporters during a White House news conference. “It makes the lives of our men and women in uniform much more difficult.”
Asked if he is concerned that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ phone call yesterday to a Florida pastor planning to burn Qurans tomorrow had elevated the issue, Obama said the issue already had attained a high profile.
“I hardly think we were the ones who elevated this story,” he said. “But in the age of the Internet, it is something that can cause us profound damage.” Therefore, he added, leaders rightfully were concerned.
Obama called the burning of a holy book contrary to American values and said he personally hopes it won’t happen. “But I’m also commander in chief,” he said, adding that he was concerned about rioting that erupted in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this week when news of the Quran-burning threat spread around the world. “I have an obligation to say this kind of threat puts our young men and women in uniform in harm’s way.”
The president said he hopes Americans will mark the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States tomorrow as a day to “rekindle the spirit of unity and common purpose that we felt” in the days following the attack that killed nearly 3,000 people. Obama is scheduled to speak tomorrow at the Pentagon, one of the three attack sites. Also tomorrow, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, will be at ‘ground zero’ in lower Manhattan and First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush are to be in Shanksville, Pa., where an airliner crashed after passengers overpowered hijackers.
Obama noted and reiterated statements from then-President George W. Bush following 9/11 that the United States is not at war with Islam, but rather is fighting a fringe group of extremists who terrorized the country under a false religious banner. He added that “al-Qaida and its allies have killed more Muslims than almost anyone on Earth.”
Obama asked that Americans “hang on to that thing that is best in us: ideas of religious tolerance. … We have to make sure we don’t turn on each other.”
In fact, the president said, Muslims are fighting in Afghanistan in the uniform of the U.S. armed forces. “They’re out there putting their lives on the line for us,” he said. “We’ve got make sure that we are crystal clear for our sakes and their sakes: they are Americans, and we honor their service.
“We don’t differentiate between ‘them’ and ‘us.’ It’s just ‘us,’” the president added. “And tomorrow is an excellent time to reflect on that.”