“I don’t want my kids to be around Muslim people again.”
Contact with “The Religion of Peace” can leave a decidedly negative impression.
The Sioux Falls Argus Leader is running a feature series on “South Dakota to South Sudan,” detailing the triumphs and challenges of the large South Sudanese community in Sioux Falls. Reporter Steve Young traveled to the world’s newest nation with Sioux Falls probation officer David Jal, who is working with his people here and in their homeland.
Along with the challenges of adapting to life in a new and very different land, the Christian South Sudanese carry memories of a brutal war waged against them by the Islamist regime in Khartoum, from which they seceded in 2011. Comments in the articles are telling:
But learning new ways hasn’t necessarily meant letting go of the old ones. Many of the 3,000 to 4,000 South Sudanese now living in Sioux Falls brought their songs and their food and their dances with them. And some brought the lingering hatreds spawned from decades of civil war that killed more than 2 million of their relatives and countrymen and forced twice that many to flee the human slaughter.
As a result, there are addresses in the city here today where the animosity forged by a radical Muslim-led Sudan government bent on wiping out the Christian Southerners has not been forgotten. While they do understand that they live in a country built on the premise of religious freedom, it doesn’t matter — some have decided that their sons and daughters will not be friends with Muslim classmates, or Muslim neighbors, or Muslim anyone.
Some have even gone to the point of calling up their public school principal here in Sioux Falls and telling them that their children are not to associate with Muslim classmates.
This is how Garang Deng Akot explains it. He is missing part of the ring finger on his right hand after he was bayoneted by Khartoum government soldiers who stole his family’s cattle. So deep is his animus toward the Sudan government that Akot sends his children to St. Lambert Catholic school in Sioux Falls. That way they won’t be exposed to Muslim children in public classrooms.
“The Muslims kill a lot of people in my country. They kill young people. They kill a lot in my family,” the 45-year-old meatpacker at John Morrell & Co. says. “I don’t want my kids to be around Muslim people again. When they grow up, they will know their own friends. But they are not free to decide until they are 18 years old.”
Young interviews others who point out that younger Sudanese are adapting to American freedom of religion and not experiencing the conflict as acute. He also interviews a Sudanese Muslim teen in Sioux Falls, who takes the position that the Khartoum government is distorting and using his religion, and that he has many Christian friends here. There’s so much to be said for the freedom of religion that we seem bent on eroding - it is one of the world’s greatest peacemaking tools and we seem ready to sacrifice it to one of the world’s most violent entities, the overgrown state.
On a personal note, I’ve been elected to the Board of Rebuilding South Sudan Through Education. I hope you will visit our site - we’re also on Facebook and on Twitter @SudanEducation. Our project’s founder is Moses Joknhial II, who walked out of Sudan as a nine-year-old “Lost Boy,” and returned at the controls of a plane with a vision and supplies for building a better future for his people. His story is at the site, and it is an honor to be part of his work.
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