‘Hijack’ is a contentious word to use when speaking about Arab American culture, but it’s exactly what Rachid Moukhabir says has happened to his culture worldwide – and he’s combatting that unfortunate view with a new magazine called ‘Zarah’ that highlights the positives of Arab American culture in Revere and the entire area.
“I’m so passionate about this,” he said in a recent interview. “I don’t get tired if I work 60 or 80 hours a week on this because I believe in it. I believe we have to get the true story of Arab American culture and religion out there to people. I will not let other extreme viewpoints hijack our culture and hijack our religion…The basic dream is we want to get all the Arab American people here together – to be one – and to educate one another and be an overall positive component of the society.”
So far, Moukhabir has been putting in the legwork and the brainwork to get that lofty goal accomplished.
Uniting with Revere resident Bill Jackson, the two have produced six editions of Zarah Magazine that have featured national/international stories and opinions, as well as local highlights from Revere, Eastie, Everett, Chelsea and Winthrop. Additionally, they’ve established a strong web presence and a regular television talk show program on cable access.
They can be found from places as far away as the candlelight vigil in New Hampshire for beheaded journalist James Foley to things as close by as the Columbus Day Parade in Eastie and Breakfast in Revere.
“The vision is to write articles about Arab culture and have a stronger voice in the region and be a positive component of this society that we live in,” he reiterated. “I travelled all the way from Morocco to the U.S. because I love this country. I finished college here and stayed here and worked to make myself who I am because I love the country. I chose the U.S. because I believe in the country. Now that I’ve finished my education, I want to give back to Morocco and to the U.S.”
Added Jackson, “The American people have a twisted, unfair idea of what Arab American people think and do. That’s mostly because of what we’ve seen for so long on television overseas. However, Arab American people cannot be judged by what you see radical people in Iraq doing. That’s why we do the magazine. We want to correct that viewpoint.”
Moukhabir came to the United Stated in 2003 to finish his education. He got an associates degree in Biomedical Engineering and then a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronics from Wentworth. He later earned a Master’s in Business Administration as well.
He settled in Eastie with his wife, Fatima, and began concentrating on advertising and marketing work. He later founded EBAMS24 (East Boston Advertising and Marketing Strategies 24) to develop marketing strategies for local businesses – and idea he had while working at a Dunkin’ Donuts across from a Boston hospital many years ago. There, he is an active part of the business community and celebrated a grand opening on March 1.
That, however, is his work.
Zarah Magazine is his passion.
Zarah is derived from the Arabic word meaning ‘red rose,’ and is also the name of Moukhabir’s mother. The reason for the name, he said, is to show to the entire community that the magazine loves them – as is commonly symbolized with a red rose. He said they want the community to engage fully and positively in their new environment, while maintaining an attachment to the culture left behind.
He said the magazine, television show and website are meant to fill what he believes in a glaring hole in Arab American media.
“One thing that attracted my attention was Arab people here didn’t have any newspapers or magazines that represented their voice in the region,” he said. “I did my research and talked to a lot of people and they were very, very excited about my plan and my ideas. From there, we’ve reached out to make connections with all the Arab organizations, both civic and religious.”
One early success he listed was that newfound attention was being paid to the American Association for Arab Women in Malden. It was pretty much unknown until Zarah Magazine gave them some ink.
“You don’t know about a lot of these organizations because they don’t have a lot of resources and don’t get a lot of attention,” he said.
The magazine so far has come out once a month, and it features articles on travel, finance, sports, religion, local organizations, political opinion and inspirational stories.
One particular story recently detailed the inspirational account of a woman from Yemen who worked her way through school and earned a pharmacy degree. In telling her story, she talks about reaching out beyond one’s own culture – not limiting oneself to his or her own culture to find help in succeeding.
That dovetails on the larger vision that Moukhabir and Jackson have for the magazine – one that includes a dialog between the various cultures in the area.
“We want this to expand beyond the region and we want it to not just be a magazine or website for reaching Arab Americans,” said Moukhabir. “It’s something that we want to reach out to everyone; something that is open to everyone so that people can get to know the Arab culture and they can get to know Americans.”