For almost a decade, the annual commemoration of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, has been seen as a day of national unity and sober remembrance. This year, contentious issues of religious freedom and national identity threaten to colour the ninth anniversary of those tragic events. What they think
Controversies over calls to burn the Quran and an ongoing debate over a proposed mosque and Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero are drawing particular attention as the anniversary nears, sparking questions about how 9/11 became so politicised.
Terry Jones, the pastor of a small church in Florida, wants to build a bonfire out of copies of the Quran on Saturday. That has brought condemnation across the spectrum.
But experts on public opinion say the controversy does not represent a significant new shift in attitudes. Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, said fresh signs of a backlash against Muslims are not showing up broadly in national surveys. "Attitudes are mixed and not as positive as they were eight years ago," he said, "but there's no sign of an upswing in anti-Muslim fervor."
Jones may epitomize the ease with which someone on the political fringe can spark controversy. The debate over the proposed Islamic center represents more genuine divisions in the country over the limits of religious freedom.
About a third of the country now believes that mainstream Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims, while 54 per cent see the religion as peaceful. The percentage seeing it as peaceful has varied little over the past nine years, but the per centage saying they believe it encourages violence is about double what it was in 2002.
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