Americans held captive by repressive regimes have plenty to worry about.
Losing their jobs back home shouldn’t be one of them.
Yet Jeffrey Fowle, the Moraine street department worker held captive in North Korea for almost four months, told CNN last week that he is “desperate” — not for fear of his life or prolonged imprisonment, but for fear of losing his family’s livelihood. The West Carrollton father of three is the primary breadwinner for his family.
Moraine City Manager David Hicks sounds like a disgruntled boss whose employee has been absent on an extended drinking binge. “We’re going to have to do something with that pretty soon,” he said. “At some point, we can’t let this go on forever.”
Hicks went on to blame the victim: “He’s there because he chose to go there. Everyone’s accountable for the decisions we make.”
Ah, come on, man, have a heart.
Are the American journalists brutally murdered by the Islamic State militants responsible for their deaths? After all, James Foley and Steve Sotloff chose — with extraordinary courage, we might add — to cover the violence in Syria.
Are soldiers captured by Iraqi soldiers “accountable” for their own captivity? After all, they “chose” to serve their country.
As a Moraine resident, Katie Taylor feels deeply about Fowle’s plight. As part of a military family, she can easily imagine a loved one in a similar dilemma: “You wouldn’t tell a military wife that it’s her husband’s choice he’s being held captive because he joined the military. That serviceman is serving his country and he shouldn’t be fed to the wolves overseas or back home.”
Granted, Fowle isn’t a serviceman, and his trip to North Korea wasn’t job-related. But his only crime was leaving a copy of the Bible in a North Korean nightclub.
Maybe he was naïve about the risks, but this is, after all, a country that purportedly wants to promote tourism. (Funny way of showing it.) Some Americans still travel to North Korea each year, despite State Department warnings. You don’t expect to be detained while on holiday — and after you’ve asked for forgiveness for a trumped-up offense.
Fowle is, without question, a religious prisoner — something that is the very antithesis of American values and ideals. And yet a publicly-funded employer is threatening to fire him for being detained against his will?
“We want the best for Jeff,” Hicks told me. “The situation isn’t about his job, it’s about his safety.” He declined further comment.
But in his interview with CNN, job security — and the well-being of his wife Tatyana and their children — seemed at the forefront of Fowle’s mind. He was one of three American detainees in North Korea — including Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller — who were granted a five-minute interview with CNN’s Will Ripley at a Pyongyang hotel last week. “If this goes beyond September, then I’m in grave danger of losing my job,” Fowle said. “That’s when my vacation benefits run out, and I’ll be out of a job and Tatyana will be out of an income. Our kids might be out on the street.”
What if this were put up for a vote? I suspect the good citizens of Moraine would approve preserving the salary of a city worker being persecuted for his religious beliefs.
The city should do the right thing, with or without public pressure.
This is, no doubt, an extraordinary situation. There’s nothing in a city manager’s handbook that suggests how to deal with it.
But extraordinary situations call for creative and compassionate solutions.
Fellow captive Kenneth Bae told CNN viewers simply “to pray for me.”
As a man of faith Jeffrey Fowle would appreciate prayers, too, but he needs more than that.
He needs his job.
What do you think? Should the city of Moraine hold Jeffrey Fowle’s job for him? Contact this columnist at email@example.com.
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