Day 110: 9/11 healing: the mothers who found forgiveness, friendship

It took 36 hours for Phyllis Rodriguez to learn her son had perished in the World Trade Center. Aicha El Wafi’s son,Zacharius was convicted for his involvement in planning the attacks. Somehow in the aftermath, these two women formed an unlikely friendship and they stood together on the TED stage in 2010 to talk about it.
El-Wafi was married at the age of 14 to a Moroccan man who took the family to France and terrorised them. She had lost two children by the age of 16. For much of Zacarius’ life she was a single mother. As part of their defence of Zacharius, his lawyers tried to claim that he was suffering from mental illness as a result of his poor childhood.
Rodriguez was the only mother seen by El- Wafi in the group of 9/11 victims. The rest were bothers, girlfriends and wives. When a meeting was set up between the two women in November 2002, it took place under supervision of family and several security guards. Before they knew each others first names they embraced and wept. Over the course of that meeting they connected as human beings, each accepting the suffering the other had gone through. El- Wafi has never condoned the behaviour of her son and frequently wonders how he became a member of Al Qaeda. Rodriguez met a woman who could be exceptionally generous under difficult circumstances.
Both women draw their own conclusions at the end of the talk. For Rodriguez, the most important task is to ask who you can meet that you’re not afraid of. Alicia concludes that the heart and mind must be generous, ending with a wish that we one day all live in peace.


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