An Unlikely Friendship

Yahoo 9/11 10th Anniversary

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Aicha El-Wafi (L) and Phyllis Rodriguez receive a Quadriga Award for outstanding contributions to society and world …

For anyone who lost a loved one on 9/11, the urge to be vengeful toward those connected to the attackers must be overwhelming. But that isn't true of everyone.

Phyllis Rodriguez lost her son Greg in the attack on the World Trade Center. In the years since that terrible loss, she has formed what many consider to be an unusual friendship with Aicha el-Wafi, the mother of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was convicted of playing a large role in the attacks. He is currently serving a life sentence for his crimes.

Back in December, the two spoke at a conference for women, where Rodriguez talked about their mutual admiration for each other. Rodriguez remarked, "When I saw Aicha in the media coming over when her son was indicted, I thought, 'what a brave woman, someday I want to meet her... when I'm stronger.'"

In 2002, el-Wafi asked to be put in touch with the parents of the victims.

She was introduced to five families. She met Phyllis, and she "saw in her eyes that she was a mother" (like el-Wafi). A respectful relationship quickly formed.


When the two met, they were both nervous, not knowing what they wanted from each other. By the end of the afternoon, they felt like they'd known each other for a long time. Rodriguez says she feels the two have "a special connection which she values very much, that's all about being afraid of the other but making that step."

[ Photos: Images of the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero ]

Rodriguez goes on to say that when people heard that her son had died on 9/11, she got immediate sympathy. But el-Wafi earned no such sympathy even though, in Rodriguez's words, "her suffering is equal."

So how did Rodriguez come to forgive? In an interview with the Forgiveness Project, she spoke a bit about her philosophy. "When Greg was killed, I thought, 'I will never forgive the people who murdered my son,' but I have come to see forgiveness as more than a word; it's a context, a process. I don't forgive the act, but trying to understand why someone has acted in the way they have is part of the process of forgiving. Forgiveness is being able to accept another person for being human and fallible."

Generosity, tolerance, and speaking out against violence are things the two women agree on -- strong beliefs that have helped them through unimaginable pain and suffering.

You can watch their interview on TED below.

Video courtesy of TED


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