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Having escaped from Iran after being held hostage there by her own husband, Betty Mahmoody says she now has a keener understanding of what it means to be free.

Mahmoody never again will take freedom for granted. The words "freedom" and "liberty" don't mean much to people until they've had to live in a culture without them."I had mine taken away," she said in an interview Thursday night with the Deseret News.

What started out as a two-week visit to her Iranian husband's family in Tehran turned into an 18-month ordeal for Mahmoody and her then 4-year-old daughter, Mahtob. Mahmoody says in her book, "Not Without My Daughter," that she was forced to wear black clothes and acquiesce to her husband's every wish until she and her daughter were able to escape.

A former personnel manager in the automotive industry in Michigan, Mahmoody is in Utah for America's Freedom Festival at Provo. She will share her story and thoughts on freedom as well as receive a Freedom Award during a gala at Brigham Young University on Friday night. On Saturday, she will speak at a patriotic celebration in Provo.

Mahmoody's story is well-known by now. Her book, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, documents her daring escape. The book was made into a critically acclaimed movie of the same name, starring Sally Field.

"We have so much freedom," she writes in the book.Her hope is that others learn to appreciate freedom without having to suffer as she did. "When they see the American flag or the Statue of Liberty, I want those things to mean to everyone what they now mean to me."

Since returning home to Michigan under an assumed name with her daughter, Mahmoody has devoted herself to helping others caught in cross-cultural entanglements.

She founded One World For Children, an organization that promotes understanding between cultures and security and protection for children of bicultural marriages.

Living with Mahtob, now 11 years old, Mahmoody is especially conscious of international kidnapping. Her husband has threatened to get Mahtob back.

Two years ago, she successfully pushed through legislation in Michigan allowing people married to foreigners to file for divorce in a county other than their country of residence. The law protects people from having to reveal their address to an estranged spouse who may abduct children in the other spouse's custody.

"It's model legislation that I hope is picked up nationwide," Mahmoody said.

Mahmoody also has testified at the federal level, urging Congress to make international kidnapping a felony. She's also writing a book on international abduction interweaving it with what's happened in her life since fleeing Iran.

Mahmoody feels her words are not going unheeded. "I've proven to myself that ordinary people can make a difference in government," she said.

The gala Friday will feature, along with Mahmoody, others who have made a difference in world affairs. Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek; former U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait W. Nathaniel Howell; and Maj. Bruce Holley, an Orem resident who served in Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf war, will also receive Freedom Awards. Mahtob Mahmoody will be awarded a $500 scholarship.