I try to understand what Malaz Mallouhi means when he says he doesn't blame anyone for his problems, and that he's not angry.
The president of the United States ordered a ban on travel from seven countries, including Mallouhi's native Syria, and the order has caused confusion and hardship for many. As a result of President Donald J. Trump's action, Mallouhi won't be able to travel to Europe to visit his parents — and that, he quickly notes, will not seem like a big deal to many.
"I don't blame anyone for my problems," he says a few times during our conversation. "And many others are suffering and they need help. …
"But I just feel like I don't belong here."
Mallouhi is 33 and lives in Towson. He has a green card. He works in telecommunications as an engineer. The cybersecurity job he really wanted eludes him because he has Syrian citizenship. He understands that companies in computer security require clearances he can't meet. It's a reality he has learned to accept since he arrived in the United States in 2009 and earned a master's degree in science from the University of Arizona.
More recently, Mallouhi, who is Christian, mentored a family of Syrian refugees who are Muslim. He told them that, to feel settled here, all they had to do was "play by the rules," and things would be OK.
"I told them to make peace with that," Mallouhi says. "'As long as you follow the rules,' I told them. But now ... I can't say that."
The rules changed on Friday with Trump's executive order.
Now Mallouhi doubts he will be able to obtain the visa he needs to fly to Germany to visit his parents. He had been planning the trip for several months.
"With the new [order], it's not a guarantee I will be able to go back to the U.S.," he says. "So the German Embassy is not going to issue me a visa."
Germany has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from the civil war in Syria.
"Maybe it's clear to the American immigration that green-card holders are allowed to go back [to the U.S.], but not the Germans," says Mallouhi. "My passport is a Syrian passport."
So Mallouhi canceled his visit to the German Embassy, then canceled his 10-day vacation and his April flight out of BWI aboard WOW Air. (The airline said it would give refunds or offer to change tickets with passengers from the seven countries not permitted to travel to the United States.)
Again, I heard Mallouhi say, "I don't feel I belong here," and it sounded more plaintive than complaining.
He struck me as grateful for what he had, but betrayed by this change in the rules.
"I pay taxes, and I deserve to be treated like everyone else," he says. "I think this is not the right way to make America safe."
Certainly the people who support Trump's executive order must know that it's hype. Certainly those who proudly declared they were fed up with politicians must realize that Trump, in the best tradition of politicians, has sold them a cake filled with air.
It might look like he's fulfilling a campaign promise, but come on: Is keeping Malaz Mallouhi from visiting his parents in the national interest? Is stopping the relative trickle of Syrian refugees, mostly women and children, coming into the United States really going to make you sleep better at night?
The country is no safer today than it was last Thursday, before Trump signed his order. There's no data, no logic to support the ban.
I realize that many of you prefer data that supports Trump and all the magical things he's done since taking office.
But allow me to offer some information from the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at the University of North Carolina. It was published just a few days ago, and it's the center's eighth annual report on Muslim-American involvement in violent extremism.
(Some of this information appeared in a Sunday blog post on this subject, but I believe it's worth repeating.)
•Since 9/11, there have been no fatalities in the United States caused by extremists with family backgrounds in the seven Muslim-majority countries (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen) under the Trump executive order.
•Since 9/11, Muslim-American extremists caused 123 deaths in the United States — and that includes the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., last year. During the same period, the country recorded 240,000 murders.
Certainly you must see that Trump's executive order exploits our fears while causing unnecessary hardship and heartache. Certainly you must believe that the government already has taken extraordinary steps to protect us from international terror. Certainly, in moments of reason, you must hear the honest whispers that say the biggest, most consistent threats to our safety are already here, homegrown and among our own.