The Incredible Counterterrorism Efforts of Two 9/11 Widowed Mothers: Guest post by Anne Weiskopf

Posted by on Sep 19, 2011 in politics, women's health | 1 comment

I am proud to feature this wonderful post by my friend and blogger Anne Weiskopf. Although it focuses on 9-11 (a topic that those of you who know me personally understand that I avoid like the plague), the larger story is really about the importance of support and sisterhood, and reaching outside our comfort zone.

Although the post is considerably longer than usual, it’s well worth every word. Please show some love.


[Photo credit:]

Imagine being the wife of a passenger on American Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles on September 11, 2001.  Now imagine being 7 months pregnant with your 3rd child at that moment.  Imagine still, meeting another Widow (8 months pregnant with her 2nd child) whose husband was on United Flight 175, from Boston to Los Angeles on that fateful day.

So begins the story of Susan Retik and Patti Quigley, who were both pregnant, and widowed, on 9/11. These two women, residents of Boston-area suburbs, met for the first time months after September 11th.  Through their suffering they created a strong bond, each woman uniquely understanding the other’s experience, especially of having a baby who would never know her father.

As Susan and Patti were being comforted and supported by so many, including family, neighbors, co-workers of their late husbands, and the government itself, they began to research the conditions and circumstances facing other widows, those halfway around the world in Afghanistan.  Their situations were far from analogous.  According to Susan, “Decades of conflict had ravaged Afghanistan, leaving hundreds of thousands of women without husbands — a culturally necessity for Afghans — or basic resources. In many cases, Afghan widows had no means to feed, clothe, or shelter their children. Their situation was desperate.”

As it explains on their website:

The approximately 2 million Afghan widows are among the most impoverished and vulnerable peoples in one of the poorest countries in the world — yet they are often overlooked. Culturally displaced, widows in Afghanistan are stripped of whatever resources and respect they had when they were married. About 90% of Afghan widows have children, and the average widow has more than four.(1) Approximately 94% are illiterate.(2) It is difficult to overstate the bleak reality of everyday existence for these women as they struggle to feed their children and simply survive. Suicide sometimes seems like the only way out. According to a 2006 UNIFEM survey, 65% of the 50,000 widows in Kabul “see suicide the only option to get rid of their miseries and desolation.”(3)

Impoverished and utterly without resources, these women cannot lift their focus beyond day-to-day survival. As a result, their children are also trapped in the cycle of poverty without hope for a better future. The only way to break this cycle is by enabling Afghan widows to lift themselves out of the abyss. When a mother improves her life situation, her children have a chance at a better future — a chance not only to survive into adulthood, but a chance to attend school, which is vitally important on a global scale. As Colonel Jamie Cade, deputy commander of Canadian troops in Task Force Kandahar pointed out, the enemy in Afghanistan is not just the Taliban — it’s illiteracy.(4) If we are ever to affect meaningful social change and deter terrorism in Afghanistan, it is through education and empowerment from the lowest echelons of society — the very place where Afghan widows dwell.

This is the work of Beyond the 11th.

As the Bush Administration started wars on two fronts while simultaneously attempting to “win the hearts and minds”  of the enemies of the United States, Susan and Patti started to raise awareness, and money, through donations to Beyond the 11th.  First by traveling from Ground Zero to Boston by bicycle in 2006, and then by providing micro loans for Afghani widows to start small businesses so that their children could go to school, become educated, and not suffer the poverty and ignorance that led to Afghanistan becoming a training ground for Al-Quaeda and the 9/11 hijackers.  As Susan stated in September of 2010 “The hijackers did not wake up on September 10th with so much hatred for the US that they decided to commit suicide and terror. The hatred had been learned over a lifetime of despair, illiteracy, and poverty.”

The documentary “Beyond the 11th” chronicles Susan’s journey to Afghanistan in 2006 and the bond she created with the Afghani widows whom her organization had helped to set up in business, creating the opportunity for them to feed their children, send them to school, and to give themselves a sense of pride and purpose, something they had never had before.  For her humanitarian efforts, Susan was one of 13 Americans to be awarded a 2010 Citizens Medal by President Obama.

So why, on September 15th 2011 does this story seem all the more urgent?  The Sunday September 11th, NY Times “Reviews” section leads with “And Hate Begat Hate”. This story, written by Ahmed Rashi, a journalist and the author of “Taliban” and “Descent in Chaos” chronicles that the “wave of anti-Americanism is rising in both Afghanistan and PakistanThe reasons?  Because after 11 years at war (our longest war ever) those who once admired the United States resent that our efforts to bring peace and development to Afghanistan is failing, and with the war extended into Pakistan – the number of dead Afghan soldiers and civilians has greatly increased.  This, according to Rashi, leads many Afghanis to ponder:  “Why do Americans Hate us so much?”

Americans don’t hate Afghanis.  More to the point, the majority of Americans have little understanding of the Afghani people, and what life is like in Afghanistan. To that end, Susan Retik is all the more remarkable, for focusing not on revenge, but on better understanding the circumstances that would lead to a country becoming a terrorist training ground. In doing so she is dedicated to helping Afghani widows eradicate hunger and illiteracy in their villages so that they can imagine a future different from their past.  

Americans may not understand Afghanis.  And, Afghanis may not understand Americans.  But mothers understand their responsibility to their children and want to make a better life for them – no matter what their nationality, color, or religion.

And Susan Retik understands this best.


About the author.. Anne Weiskopf lives in the Boston area, with a husband, 2 teenage boys and 3 cats. She has spent many years in the tech media and B2B market. She provides sales and business development services to agencies and companies who are in the social media and technology space. You can find (and follow) her at @AnneWeiskopf on Twitter, and, her new blog




One Comment

  1. 9-19-2011

    This is such a powerful story, Anne. thanks for sharing it.

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