As a Christian, Jok prays for his Lost Boys

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

Here’s what I wish: I wish Peter Jok would get arrested and detained.

Not that I have anything against the leading scorer in Big 10 men’s basketball at about 21 points per game for the Iowa Hawkeyes. I love the guy.

And I love his story. Because, it’s the story of hundreds or even thousands of Storm Lakers who yearn for freedom.

Peter Jok came here with his family when he was three. His father was a general in the Sudanese army. His mother brought him to Des Moines, where he excelled in basketball. She became a dual citizen of Sudan, later South Sudan, and the United States. She remains a member of the South Sudan National Assembly in abstentia.

All Peter wanted was to be a Hawkeye and make his mama proud, like so many Iowa boys. He is the picture of success: smiling, polite, deferential and confident.

So I wish that she would take a fact-finding tour of South Sudan and take Peter, who may be a national hero, with her. And I would hope that they get detained as suspected Sudanese travelers.

The entire Hawkeye Nation would go apoplectic. They would demand answers. They would want to know how Mr. Nice Guy got in cuffs.

They would calm down quickly.

Because, it appears, the Joks are in the clear.

The Joks, like so many in Storm Lake, are from South Sudan. Sudan is on President Trump’s banned traveler list. But South Sudan is more Christian, so it’s not on the list even though it is functionally a failed state collapsing into the wider Sudanese civil war.

But, we are told, this is not about a religious test.

In fact, it is.

Christian Sudanese might be briefly detained and questioned, but when they show the crucifix they get past Customs.

A brief alarm would be nice to wake up Iowans who want to build walls and arrest people who look or talk funny.

Few Northwest Iowans would care if an Iraqi or Syrian refugee were told to go fish. And they wouldn’t care if your average Sudanese or Somali character were run back from whence he came. But not a guy with a Peter Jok-like stroke. Somebody who can shoot the trey off the dribble. Someone who can blow the roof off Carver Hawkeye Arena.

And a Christian.

And here is what a real Christian has to say about his forlorn compatriots:

“Although I am a naturalized citizen of the United States and not affected by Trump’s executive order on immigration, a lot of my friends and family are. Like the Lost Boys and thousands of Sudanese who came to this country as refugees. America has been home to me because I grew up here. It’s unfortunate the order has/will affect so many families and Sudanese athletes playing in college and in the NBA. I hope the order is reversed soon, because the America that I know is a land of opportunities and inclusion. I am praying for all those affected by it.”

In fact, after the NBA inquired with the White House about the status of Sudanese players, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus announced that people with green cards (permanent residents) would not have a problem. But the way things change in a week nobody can say for certain.

Which is why a Jok detainer, just long enough to generate some headlines, might wake us up to the people we used to be.

We used to believe that religion or the color of your skin didn’t matter. It does.

We used to believe that America was the Land of Opportunity for everyone. Not everyone.

We used to believe that everyone was treated the same under the law. Now we know better.

White people from England are more desirable than black people from Sudan or Somalia. Go ahead and say it. Our government is.

Christians are better than Muslims or Buddhists. That is what we are being told by executive order. People from one part of the Sudan are safer than other people in Sudan, and none of them are as safe as someone from Aurelia named Anderson.

What would it take to bring us back to our senses?

A picture of Peter Jok, future NBA star, behind plexiglass windows at LAX airport in California, with his mother the National Assemblywoman from Des Moines. And then a story that said they were mistaken for terrorists. We might wake up to our own stupidity.

But it won’t be them. They’re in the clear as of Sunday, until they are not. It will be someone else from Sudan who will not rate a picture in the paper, just a flight back to a place that we would refer to as their home. And who would care for those Lost Boys? Just one stroke separates them from Jok, and he knows it.