GRACE, TENNESSEE — Ammar Abdul Malouf is a 32-year old Syrian who fled his home country to come to America, seeking asylum from the bloody civil war that is ravaging the Syrian countryside. Malouf began his journey to the United States with his wife and young daughter more than 15 months ago, and last Thursday he finally made it to a small town in Tennessee with them all in tow. Unfortunately for Mr. Malouf though, Tennessee’s Governor Bill Haslam (R) has joined a chorus of Republican governors — and one Democratic governor — in stating his intention to keep people like Ammar out of his state.
“Honestly at this point I just would like the opportunity to dodge bullets in a different locale,” Malouf told reporters outside the bus transit station in Grace, Tennessee that he and his family arrived at, having already been screened by the State Department extensively. When Malouf got off the train however, he said he was greeted by Haslam personally who told him he’d have to get back on the train and “take it all the way back home to Syria,” Malouf says he was told by Haslam.
Malouf is a software engineer with ten years experience in the IT industry, and is hoping to apply that experience as a new business owner in Grace. He intends to start a computer repair and education center where people of all income levels can come and learn how to use various high-tech devices. “The idea,” Malouf said, “is that if we give people the tools to update their technical skills, they may qualify for higher paying office jobs and thereby help our local economy and give the social safety net a little breathing room.” Malouf says he already has the capital in place, and just needs a home to set up his Tennessee residence in to begin the process.
Mr. Malouf told our reporter that what drove him to Tennessee was an ironic sense of belonging. “I mean, back home I was used to having to keep my head down to avoid getting blasted by an automatic weapon,” he said, “and in red states with lax gun laws you have to keep your head down to keep from being shot too. The only difference is that it might be a hand gun or semi-auto rifle instead of a full-auto AK or something like that.”
“Back home the biggest threat to our security was a religious extremist with a gun taking offense to our existence, deciding we weren’t ideologically aligned with them, and blowing us away,” Malouf said, “with the Islamaphobia among fundamentalist Christians in this state I knew we’d fit right in.” Malouf said he as already been in contact with an immigration lawyer as well as the State Department to have them reiterate to Tennessee officials that he and his family have already been fully vetted.
Despite the cold welcome, Malouf says he is not bitter toward America, its citizens, or even Governor Haslam. “I get it, we all get it,” Malouf said, “religious extremism is religious extremism no matter what. The sad part is really that the Christians here are playing right into ISIS’ plans by doing this. They want us to feel cold and shut out. They want to foment an us versus them mentality between the West and the Islamic community of the world. So hopefully one day Americans re-embrace the melting pot idea and my family and I can live in peace and pursue the American dream for ourselves.”
“The bottom line for me is that I can handle keeping my head on a swivel in an environment that’s relatively hostile toward me,” Malouf said at the end of the interview. “Whether it’s Islamic terrorists driving me out, or American Christians keeping me away, I’ve gotten used to so-called Godly people treating me like garbage. So I just want a change to live under constant threat from another, different group of religious radicals. Is that so much to ask for,” Ammar asked rhetorically before saying goodbye and hanging up.
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