Jodie Butler’s career of more than 45 years includes work at the local, state, national and international levels from teaching to education and technology policy development. She was Governor Terry Branstad’s education policy advisor (January 1994 to October 1998), with responsibilities for policy/law development, budget initiatives, constituent services, and agency liaison to multiple state agencies.
I had some amazing opportunities from 1994-1998. One memory came flooding back after the latest Hamas terrorist attack against Israel.
It was my first day on the job as Governor Branstad’s education policy advisor in January 1994. I was reassigned to be his aide that day and attended the convention of the Iowa Utility Association. Hundreds of people were at the convention center luncheon, yet one could have heard a pin drop for the 30 minutes that Thomas Sutherland spoke. It will remain one of the highlights of my public service to have had the chance to hear him.
Thomas Sutherland was abducted by Hezbollah in June 1985 from the American University of Beirut, less than two years after the bombing of Beirut’s Marine barracks which happened on October 23, 1983, now forty years ago. The list of those held captive during that time included journalist Terry Anderson, who (like Sutherland) earned a degree at Iowa State University. Terry Waite was also among those who were kidnapped from 1982-1992, and now we are shocked once again by atrocities we haven’t seen for decades.
Thomas and his wife Jean Sutherland later co-authored At Your Own Risk: An American Chronicle of Crisis and Captivity in the Middle East in 1994. The book chronicles the couple’s individual experiences during the hostage ordeal. Thomas was held captive for more than 6 years, finally released in 1991. The Sutherlands’ book also offers a glimpse into the ongoing strife in the Middle East and between Islam and the West.
I will never forget his ability to tell his story. But what struck me most that day was his observation about the “late teen/early adult,” uneducated boys that held him in captivity and his message about how inextricably linked education and freedom are in a democracy.
Thomas Sutherland was an inspiration to me and set the stage for my work for those five years and beyond. I was simply awestruck by his humanity and forgiveness after such a horrendous experience. His message about why we need to invest in a strong public education system, including higher education, stuck with me.
When nationalism and religion are manipulated by groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, they become tools to turn the uneducated into terrorists against democracy, threatening the freedoms of the collective “we the people” around the world. When countries like Israel and Ukraine, are attacked, we’re all threatened. The context and complexities are historical, cultural, familial, religious, and all contribute to prejudice, hate, and bias, which need to be dissected and addressed to resolve such longstanding discrimination against one another.
It’s going to be extremely difficult to keep Lebanon and Iran out of the negative mix in the Middle East right now, but President Joe Biden clearly is the leader we need now and, in the near future, given what he’s learned over his career. I only hope the American people realize how important this battle is, and what it means for the future of our democracy and those around the world.