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Correction to This Article
This article about observances and protests on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks reported that antiabortion activist Randall Terry and an assistant tore pages out of a Koran in front of the White House. The article incorrectly described Terry's relationship with the antiabortion group Operation Rescue. He co-founded and headed the group but is no longer part of it.

On 9/11, commemorations accompanied by focus on Islam

People gather near the Pentagon and the site of the World Trade Center in New York to remember the victims of the terror attacks nine years ago.

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By Ann Gerhart and David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 12, 2010; 4:08 AM

Moments of silence and reminders of American freedoms have become the healing rites of Sept. 11. On Saturday, heated arguments about the legacy and lessons of the terror attacks nine years ago finally seeped into the day itself.

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Heightened anxieties over a fringe pastor's plan to burn copies of the Koran and demonstrations centering on a planned mosque near New York's Ground Zero set a newly divisive tone - one that suggested deepening discord over the role of Islam in America.

In services at the Pentagon, at Ground Zero and at a fledgling national park in Shanksville, Pa., political leaders called for tolerance and spoke of the sense of shared purpose that prevailed after terrorists killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.

President Obama reprised a theme that his precedessor emphasized in those first weeks while the country was still reeling: the importance of respect for Islam.

"As Americans we are not - and never will be - at war with Islam," Obama said in a speech at the Pentagon, as survivors of those who perished listened, a few nodding. "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."

The day's events offered a robust example of the tradition of free speech. In the capital a few hours later, a group of several hundred "tea party" activists paraded down Constitution Avenue, one carrying a sign of rebuttal: "America Is Tired of Tolerance."

In the past week, the proposal for an Islamic center near the site of the destroyed Twin Towers and the pastor's threats to burn the Koran have rubbed raw the fissures of a divided nation, battered economically and undergoing societal restructuring.

The Rev. Terry Jones declared on NBC's "Today" show Saturday that he was abandoning for good his plan to burn Islam's holy book, a threat that had touched off worldwide fury and prompted top U.S. leaders to warn that doing so would endanger troops at war. In Afghanistan, though protesters clashed with security forces, there were no reports of attacks at U.S. bases.

As a show of solidarity with Jones, Randall Terry, of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, and an assistant tore out pages of a Koran in Lafayette Park across from the White House. The act was largely unnoticed by tourists who milled about, taking photographs.

The first service of the day took place in Lower Manhattan, with a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the time that the first hijacked jetliner struck the north tower of the World Trade Center. Relatives of the victims and workers helping to construct a memorial read the names of more than 2,700 dead, as they do each year.

Their unsteady voices were a reminder of the way in which the terrorist attacks have been commemorated - as upwellings of personal grief, undiluted by time.

Donna Marsh O'Connor, who lost her pregnant 29-year-old daughter, Vanessa, on that day nine years ago, said she couldn't bear to attend the Ground Zero ceremony. She planned to return Saturday afternoon to her home in Syracuse, N.Y., where she is a professor of writing and rhetoric at Syracuse University, and keep the TV switched off and play with her dog, Lando.


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