Washington: President Barack Obama on Friday again backed controversial plans to build an Islamic centre near the site of 9/11 attacks in New York reminding critics that the US was at war against terrorism not Islam.
"All men and women are created equal, they have certain inalienable rights, and one of those is to practice their religion freely," he said at a White House press conference.
"You can build a church on a site, you can build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, you should be able to build a mosque."
Obama`s comments came amidst a controversy about a Florida pastor`s plans to burn the Quran on the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks unless the proposed Islamic centre was moved away from ground zero in exchange for the burning being called off.
Obama said he recognised the sensitivity in the area because of the 9/11 attacks and acknowledges that family members are continuing to experience pain and anguish over their losses.
However, he urged people to remember who their real enemies are. "We are not at war against Islam. We are at war against terrorist organisations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam," Obama said.
"If we`re going to deal with the problems ... (of) reducing the terrorist threat, we need all the allies we can get."
Obama pressed that in fact, the anti-Islam sentiment and a war between the West and Islam is exactly what terrorist organisations are hoping for.
"Al Qaeda, that`s what they`ve been banking on," Obama said. "The overwhelming majority of Muslims are peace-loving - are interested in the same things that you and I are interested in."
Obama stressed it is important that Americans do not believe the entire religion of Islam is offensive.
On Osama bin Laden
The relentless counter terrorism operation in the Af-Pak region has forced al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy to go "deep underground", Obama said, but warned that the US needs to be alert.
"One of the things that we`ve been very successful at over the last two years is to ramp up the pressure on al Qaeda and their key leaders," Obama said on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
"As a consequence, they have been holed up in ways that have made it harder for them to operate," he said.
"And part of what`s happened is, is bin Laden has gone deep underground. Even Zawahiri, who is more often out there, has been much more cautious," Obama said.
He said capturing or killing bin Laden and Zawahiri would be extremely important to our national security.
"It doesn`t solve all our problems, but it remains a high priority of this administration," Obama told reporters at a White House news conference.
The President acknowledged that even more than eight years of war against terrorism, Americans are not secure and the US needs to be alert.
"I think that, in this day and age, there is always going to be the potential for an individual or a small group of individuals, if they are willing to die, to kill other people," he said, adding "Some of them are going to be very
well organised, and some of them are going to be random. That threat is there?.
"It`s important, I think, for the American people to understand and not to live in fear; it`s just a reality of today`s world that there are going to be threats out there," he said.
The President said the US has "greatly improved" the homeland security since 9/11 attacks.
He also warned against overreacting in the face of the threat of terrorism.
He underlined the need to understand that America`s strength in part comes from its resilience. It is important, he said, "we don`t start losing who we are or overreacting if, in fact, there is the threat of terrorism out there?.”
“We go about our business. We are tougher than them. Our families and our businesses and our churches and mosques and synagogues and our Constitution and our values, that`s what gives us strength," he noted.
"We are going to have this problem out there for a long time to come, but it doesn`t have to completely distort us, and it doesn`t have to dominate our foreign policy. What we can do is to constantly fight against it?,” Obama said.
(With Agencies` inputs)