What happened on 9/17?

Everyone remembers where they were and how they experienced the events of 9/11, twenty years ago. But do you remember what happened six days later on 9/17?

On that day, the 43rd President visited the Islamic Center of Washington DC, where he met with Muslim leaders and then emerged to deliver a few remarks. He spoke for only seven minutes, but what he said still stands as one of the most profoundly important responses to the tragic events of 9/11.

Here are the President’s remarks in full, taken from the White House archives.

 THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you all very much for your hospitality.  We’ve just had a — wide-ranging discussions on the matter at hand.  Like the good folks standing with me, the American people were appalled and outraged at last Tuesday’s attacks.  And so were Muslims all across the world.  Both Americans and Muslim friends and citizens, tax-paying citizens, and Muslims in nations were just appalled and could not believe what we saw on our TV screens.

     These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.  And it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that.

     The English translation is not as eloquent as the original Arabic, but let me quote from the Koran, itself:  In the long run, evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil.  For that they rejected the signs of Allah and held them up to ridicule.

     The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam.  That’s not what Islam is all about.  Islam is peace.  These terrorists don’t represent peace.  They represent evil and war.

     When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world.  Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace.  And that’s made brothers and sisters out of every race — out of every race.

     America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country.  Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads.  And they need to be treated with respect.  In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.

     Women who cover their heads in this country must feel comfortable going outside their homes.  Moms who wear cover must be not intimidated in America.  That’s not the America I know.  That’s not the America I value.

     I’ve been told that some fear to leave; some don’t want to go shopping for their families; some don’t want to go about their ordinary daily routines because, by wearing cover, they’re afraid they’ll be intimidated. That should not and that will not stand in America.

     Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.

     This is a great country.  It’s a great country because we share the same values of respect and dignity and human worth.  And it is my honor to be meeting with leaders who feel just the same way I do.  They’re outraged, they’re sad.  They love America just as much as I do.

     I want to thank you all for giving me a chance to come by.  And may God bless us all.

                           END

Given the disgraceful, twisted views of 43’s Republican successor – and the current state of the GOP more generally – the thoughtfulness and grace of these remarks seem almost to have emerged from a distant, golden age. My purpose here is not to canonize a President who scarcely deserves it, but just to point out that what he said on 9/17 was exactly right and precisely what was needed.

I have been and continue to be horrified by the extent of Islamophobia both here in the US and back home in the UK. In both countries I have spoken to people who told me they’re Christians and also that they harbour a hatred or fear of Islam. Not of terrorists or jihadists, but of ordinary, everyday adherents to another faith.

I have news for those people. You can’t both be a Christian and hang on to such hatred or fear of those who happen to practice another faith. You can be either a person of faith or a purveyor of lies and hatred. Make your choice.

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