WASHINGTON (CN) – On the eve of the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President Obama warned against the possible spread of anti-Islam sentiment in the United States as “a way of getting attention,” sparked by a Florida pastor’s threat to hold a mass Quran burning Saturday.
“Part of my concern is that we don’t start having a bunch of folks all across the country think that this is a way to get attention,” Obama said at a White House press conference Friday. “This is a way of endangering our troops. You don’t play games with that.”
Obama emphasized that the United States is not in a war against Islam.
“We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts,” he said. “The idea that we would burn the sacred texts of someone else’s religion is contrary to what this country stands for.”
He said the burning of the Quran, proposed by Terry Jones, pastor of the tiny Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., would have severe consequences for U.S. troops. Obama cited riots in Kabul on Friday, saying it was the “best imaginable recruiting tool for al-Qaida.”
Jones reportedly announced that he would suspend his controversial plans after he received a phone call from Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Obama said he was approaching the issue both as president and as commander-in-chief.
“I’ve got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan,” he said. “They are Americans. We don’t differentiate between them and us. It’s just us.”
Obama partly attributed the recent emergence of anti-Islam sentiment in the country, including public outcry over the planned construction of an Islamic cultural center and mosque near the World Trade Center site, to the fragile state of the nation.
“At a time when the country is anxious generally and going through a tough time, then, you know, fears can surface — suspicions, divisions can surface in a society,” he said.
When asked how long the threat of terrorism would remain in the nation’s consciousness, Obama said terrorism would exist as long as people “are willing to die” to commit terrorist acts.
He urged Americans “not to live in fear,” adding, “it’s just a reality of today’s world.”