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Interfaith Tribute Pays Respect to Victims of September 11 Attacks

Matthew Hersh

The Coalition for Peace Action (CPA) and The Princeton Clergy Association convened in Tiger Park in Palmer Square on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. The interfaith ceremony featured representatives from every major religious organization in the Princeton area and celebrated the bond that has been created between members of different faiths since the terror attacks.

The theme of the hour-long ceremony focused on peace. Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins of the Jewish Center of Princeton set a guardedly optimisitic standard for the evening by urging the audience to "believe the peace that seems so far off is, in fact, within reach." Other clergy from the area included the Rev. Margaret Hodgkins, Associate Rector of Trinity Church; the Rev. Christine Reed of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation; and Michael Brill, a representative from the Buddhist faith.

The Rev. Robert Moore, executive director of the CPA, began the evening with a statement from The September Eleventh Families For Peaceful Tomorrows. He later said that he used the statement in lieu of his own because of its personal impact. It argues that a national policy of revenge is not the way to execute post-September 11 operations. Mr. Moore articulated one of the evening's themes by speaking against Congressional resolutions like the USA Patriot Act, which he said was passed through "with little time for examination of consequences."

The event stayed consistent in promoting a peaceful political agenda. Princeton Borough Mayor Marvin Reed was the first to speak out against the United States' foreign policies regarding potential aggressors. The Mayor emphasized that in a new era of terrorism, the United States must search for alternate measures rather than the "more troops, more tanks" method.

"Since 9/11, deterrance no longer stops those who are not awed by the threat of violence," Mayor Reed said. "Weapons of mass destruction are not buried in the desert, they are buried in the vacant eyes of hopeless people. The struggles of people anywhere in the world must become our struggle."

While Mayor Reed's statements regarding peace were augmented by the religious representatives scheduled for the evening, it was religious tolerance, not politics, that motivated the ensuing speakers. Dr. Parvaiz Malik, president of the Islamic Society of Central Jersey in Monmouth Junction said that "[September 11] brought the entire society together." He went on to say, after he was interrupted by one of the few moments of applause, that he had "never seen so many faiths standing in one group standing with each other and talking with each other."

Dr. Malik's remarks were particularly poignant considering that two members of the Society were killed in events related to September 11. One man, Aman Ullah Khan, was killed in the World Trade Center attacks, and the other, Waqar Hassan, was murdered three days later in Texas as a result of a hate crime.

The gathering concluded with a candlelit "circle of hope" that coincided with the large scale event in Lower Manhattan at the World Trade Center site. Candles were distributed to audience members, who shared a silent vigil for those who were lost on September 11.

Many individuals in the crowd were concerned residents who came to show support for the event. One ¬Princeton resident, Kay Radtke, expressed her enthusiasm for such an occasion and its importance for the greater community. "This evening is important to witness because it brings out so many people who went through different experiences on September 11," Ms. Radtke said.

Mr. Moore saved his personal political criticisms for after the event had concluded. "When you take an event like that and go toward a revenge modality and toward a cycle of violence, then you aren't really honoring the memories of the people that perished," he said in a telephone interview the following day.

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