Maine’s first Arabic newspaper is struggling to publish its second edition

Good evening from the BDN Portland office on Congress Street. We got news.

What we’re talking about

On Page 3 of Maine’s first Arabic newspaper, immediately below a translation of the Bill of Rights and across from the wedding announcements of two young Iraqi couples, is a summary of how to acquire a fishing license in Maine.

Aqeel Mohialdeen, who edits, publishes and writes The Hanging Gardens of Babylon from his home in Westbrook, decided to include the instructions after he learned that some of his fellow Iraqi immigrants enjoy fishing in their free time, but were unaware that you need a permit to cast a line in state waters.

Providing members of Maine’s growing Iraqi community with information they can use to better adjust to living in the United States is one reason why Mohialdeen decided to launch the newspaper. Mohialdeen sees the paper as a tool to strengthen ties between Maine’ Iraqi community and broader American society, something that he feels is especially important after death threats were made earlier this week against Muslims in the Westbrook apartment complex where he lives.

“I think Maine has a reputation as a safe place,” he said. “I think the threats in the [apartment] complex made people think again about that.”

He published the first edition of what was planned as a monthly paper in May, as the Portland Press Herald reported at the time. But in late August, despite a flurry of submissions and community members pestering him for the next paper, Mohialdeen hasn’t put out a second edition. He so far has been stymied by two challenges that bedevil journalists across the country.

“Money and time, these are our challenges,” he said.

In collaboration with photographer Zainab Jalal and copy editor Kifah Abdulla, Mohialdeen spent five months putting together the first newspaper, finding time to conduct interviews and write articles while working as a graphic designer and raising his two teenage daughters. The three collectively spent around $3,000 putting the paper together, plus another $365 having 1,000 copies printed at a press in Brunswick.

These costs didn’t feel like a burden spread out over months, Mohialdeen said, but taking on the financial responsibility and carving out the time every month has proven difficult. Mohialdeen is not sure how he’ll surmount these challenges, but he is committed to keeping the paper free.

“Knowledge should be free,” he said. “Even people who don’t speak English deserve to learn.”

The editor sees the paper as both a service to his community and a way to return to a profession he left back in Iraq. After graduating from a fine arts college, Mohialdeen worked as a designer at an Iraqi newspaper, but like many of his fellow immigrants, he had to leave his chosen profession when he fled conflict in Iraq.

After coming to the United States in 2010, Mohialdeen worked in restaurants, at Wal-Mart and as a truck driver. He now does graphic design work to pay the bills, but feels that his journalism has deeper value.

“Many immigrants and refugees just hear what the media says about us,” said Mohialdeen. “But when we have a newspaper, we have a voice.”

Mohialdeen also is nervous about taking on advertising, since it would require much more of his time and he’d have to register the paper as a business.

He’s not sure how he’ll pay for it, but Mohialdeen is confident that the next edition will be published. In fact, much of it is already written, he said.

Asked what would be covered in the next paper, Mohialdeen said it would include an Arabic translation of the written test for a Maine driver’s license, but otherwise declined to share his leads.

“I cannot tell you because you are also a journalist,” he said with a smile. — Jake Bleiberg

ICYMI

Got a question about the city’s subcommittee overseeing the police? Here’s your chance — Portland on Wednesday will hold a public meeting to explain exactly what it is that the city’s Police Citizens Review Subcommittee actually does. (BTW, here’s our story on that issue.) The meeting will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. in Room 209 of City Hall.

It comes after 18 people reportedly tried to attend last week’s meeting at police headquarters, only to find it had been canceled without an announcement online. Wednesday’s informational meeting had been planned before that happened, but Police Chief Michael Sauschuck reached out to those who tried previously to attend to invite them to Wednesday’s meeting, according to a city spokeswoman.

“I think the important thing for people to know about the subcommittee is that we’re volunteer citizens,” said subcommittee chair Kelly Macdonald. “We review the entire investigation file that internal affairs puts together and we make sure that internal affairs is doing its job correctly.”

Yes, we are afraid — Two members of the Iraqi community — including Aqeel Mohialdeen, featured in tonight’s lead story — wrote a letter to the city of Westbrook after threatening pieces of paper targeting Muslims were found at a Westbrook apartment complex. They write: “We will not allow terrorism to destroy our peaceful community. We are willing to support the authorities by all means.”

The past couple of days have been tough for Maine Wal-Marts — In Falmouth yesterday, a man died after he was found bleeding from stab wounds in the parking lot. Today, a homeless man was charged with his murder. In Biddeford, a man stole a can of aerosol computer duster, his friend allegedly huffed it and then crashed his car into the store, cops said. Both men were arrested. In Palmyra, a man who caused a standoff in the parking lot was taken into custody.

Meanwhile: Bloomberg’s Shannon Pettypiece wrote about crime around Tulsa, Oklahoma, Wal-Marts on Wednesday:

“It’s not unusual for the department to send a van to transport all the criminals Ross arrests at this Walmart. The call log on the store stretches 126 pages, documenting more than 5,000 trips over the past five years. Last year police were called to the store and three other Tulsa Walmarts just under 2,000 times. By comparison, they were called to the city’s four Target stores about 300 times.”

The Big Idea

I spoke with other black women in Portland about racism. Here’s what I found — Marena Blanchard’s piece today has provoked a lot of conversation on our site and social media. She writes:

It seems to me that with every new incident or iteration of the movement, people question the very existence of racism in Maine.

Dear reader, I need you to know that there are racists among us in 2016. And they are emboldened by Trump’s recent visit to Portland. I need you to believe people of color have traumatic experiences of racism in Maine — interpersonal, structural and violent. I need you to hear it, see it, so that we can begin to address it together. As a black woman and a mother, I feel the need to address systemic racism with a fierce sense of urgency. We need to do this as a community. Right now.

Perhaps, that is one value of disruptive protest: to interrupt daily routines of those who otherwise wouldn’t engage with the issue. To communicate a sense of urgency that some may not relate to.


Got any interesting story ideas, suggestions or links to share? Email Dan MacLeod at dmacleod@bangordailynews.com, or tweet @dsmacleod.

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Dan MacLeod

About Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the editor of BDN Portland. He's an Orland native who first moved to Portland in 2002. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the New York Post and the Brooklyn Paper.