Terry and Donald Greene, 1996. Photograph courtesy of Terry Greene.
By Terry Greene
The National Security and Human Rights Campaign at the Open Society Foundations supports organizations that are working to protect civil liberties in post-9/11 America and to promote national security policies that respect human rights. On the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, contributing Campaign grantees offer reflections on their work in this series 9/11 at 10.
My brother, Donald F. Greene, was among the passengers aboard United Flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers retook control of the flight. Don was a licensed pilot who would have been a great aide in flying the plane if it had been possible to do so.
My brother was a hero long before 9/11. He was kind and intelligent, and he joyfully cared for his family. He worked for a company that promotes flight safety and sat on the Board of the Corporate Angels Network, which flies cancer patients for free across the country to their treatments on volunteered corporate flights. When I heard of his death I was in absolute shock. A black hole opened in my life and for our family, and the world had lost a man who had been an enemy to none and an asset to all.
At first all of my energies went to supporting Don’s and my family as we worked to get through the tragedy; the strength they displayed gave me strength. I found it unbearably painful to watch news reports replaying the devastating footage. However, when a news analyst cornered a 9/11 family member and tried to reassure her “not to worry, America would fight back,” she expressed my sentiments in replying, “Our family would not be comforted by revenge; we do not want this to happen to any other family, anywhere.” Learning that other family members wanted to prevent more harm, rather than strike back, gave me some comfort and made me realize I must add my voice.
Through my membership in September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows I found even more like-minded individuals. Named after the remarks of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. that “wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows,” our membership continues to grow and our mission remains crucial. We comprise well over 200 family members who have joined together to turn our grief into action for peace and justice.
As the ten-year mark since the attacks of 9/11 approaches, I find my activities as a member of Peaceful Tomorrows have only grown over time. Our members mourn deeply not only the ongoing loss we feel for those who perished on 9/11, but also the many ways the tragedy has been compounded by the response to it in our country and beyond our borders. We find it disturbing that patriotism, which has strengthened in me since the attacks, has not been directed at protecting America at its core – its values and system of government. Instead, our country seems to have abandoned civil liberties and human rights, from constitutional rights of freedom of religion to the right to a fair and speedy trial and humane treatment, as principles we can no longer afford.
Yet despite the mounting losses and increased divisiveness in the world, through Peaceful Tomorrows I have found great cause for hope. The people I’ve met and the work this group has done show another way. We have been joined and inspired by so many from all walks of life who recognize that we must learn to stand united with, not against, one another for the sake of our common survival. Many of these individuals and organizations are profiled in our new Our Voices/Our Choices website that was created to reflect upon the past 10 years and to consider how we can shift towards more peaceful tomorrows.
Stories of our family members and collaborators are also in a recently released resource for educators, The Change Agent’s September 2011 issue spotlighting Peaceful Tomorrows. Profiled are American Muslims, such as Peaceful Tomorrows member Talat Hamdani, whose son died rescuing fellow Americans as an emergency technician, and Fekkak Mamdouh, a former Windows on the World worker whose support of surviving co-workers led him into national advocacy to improve working conditions for restaurant workers.
In the past year alone, our advocacy has made it clear that hundreds of 9/11 families want America to stand by the rule of law and end indefinite detention, close the Guantánamo detention center, and hold to account those responsible for the torture of detainees. We have spoken out against those who have invoked the memory of 9/11 to spread religious discrimination. We stood beside New York City Mayor Bloomberg in the decision to support plans to build a proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero. We opposed Representative Peter King’s inflammatory hearings on “Muslim radicalization” as we demanded meaningful efforts to combat terrorism.
Tragedy leaves deep scars, but it also offers profound lessons: Place utmost value on relationships with others, including those who may at first seem vastly different. Build bridges, both literally and figuratively, rather than destroy them. It is when we follow these lessons that we counter terrorism. For terrorists in their distorted thinking see destruction as power, while only compassion can improve the world and honor our loved ones.