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    A STAMP STUCK IN CONTROVERSY Gaiutra Bahadur, Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/25/02 http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/4598229.htm A stamp stuck in controversy
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 11, 2002
      Gaiutra Bahadur, Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/25/02

      A stamp stuck in controversy
      Undeterred by protests, Postal Service reissues Islamic holiday
      By Gaiutra Bahadur
      Inquirer Staff Writer

      Its boosters allegedly stuffed electronic ballot boxes by the
      thousands. Its critics wrote Congress, urging its recall. And the
      White House pointedly backs it.

      Much ado, about a stamp.

      The piece of postage features a greeting for two major Islamic
      holidays rendered in gold Arabic calligraphy against an azure

      "Eid Mubarak," it reads in homage to Eid al-Fitr, the end of
      Ramadan, the monthlong period of fasting and prayer that will
      conclude this year on Dec. 6, and Eid al-Adha, a celebration during
      the pilgrimage to Mecca in February.

      The U.S. Postal Service first issued the stamp 10 days before the
      terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

      Last month, it reprinted the stamp as part of its permanent holiday
      series, despite calls from some customers to stop selling it.

      "What we were looking at was public sentiment," said Ray Daiutolo
      Sr., a spokesman for the Postal Service in the Philadelphia
      region. "It's the law of supply and demand. They were popular."

      Advocacy groups for American Muslims - although engaged in more
      substantive battles against hate crimes, detentions and ethnic
      profiling in the last year - hailed that decision as a milestone.

      "It was a pretty sizable victory," said Aminah Assilmi, 58, a
      grandmother from Kentucky and a convert to Islam who started
      lobbying the postmaster general for the stamp about five years
      ago. "That stamp became a symbol to everyone of saying, 'Yes, we're
      a part of America.' And now other people see that, too."

      But in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, it was not clear that
      almost all of the original 75 million Eid stamps issued would sell.

      Conservative talk-show hosts pointed out that "Eid" spelled backward
      is die. Some post offices reportedly stopped carrying the stamps.
      And a poster advertising Christmas, Kwanzaa and other holiday stamps
      omitted the Eid stamp. The Postal Service quickly recalled and
      reprinted the posters, saying the omission had been an accident.

      The Free Congress Foundation, a conservative think tank in
      Washington, told lawmakers to print the image of the World Trade
      Center over the Arabic script to remind people, as one of its
      officials put it, "what Islam is really like."

      The stamp even gave some self-proclaimed liberals pause.

      "I just could not bring myself to use it," said John Dunn, a native
      New Yorker and publisher of the weekly Mekeel's and Stamps Magazine
      for collectors. "It just cut too close to the bone for me. If
      Israelis had knocked down the World Trade Center, I would not have
      been able to use the Hanukkah stamp."

      To save the stamp it had lobbied for so hard and long from this
      philatelic backlash, the American Muslim Council mobilized its

      It asked doctors and small-business owners to forgo their postage
      machines for Eid stamps, just as it had.

      As recently as last week, physician Abbas Hussain bought a few
      hundred Eid stamps from his post office in Voorhees to use on mail
      sent from his Merchantville practice.

      "There is a need for awareness of Muslims in the U.S.," he said.

      And the council asked sympathizers to cast cyber ballots for the Eid
      stamp as their favorite in a survey this year by Ohio-based Linn's
      Stamp News, another magazine for collectors.

      More than 13,000 people - almost three times the number who usually
      participate in the annual survey - obliged.

      Only images of Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist and communist, and
      Elvis Presley generated as much controversy on a piece of postage as
      the Arabic script has, stamp enthusiasts say.

      Michael Schreiber, despite his position as editor of Linn's Stamp
      News, doesn't understand the fuss.

      "Stamps aren't all that worth getting worked up over," he said.

      The players in the Eid stamp saga would disagree.

      "It's quite an achievement for us [as American Muslims] to have
      something that goes everywhere," said Mohamed Zakariya, 60, the
      California-born artist who designed the stamp.

      For Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation, it is a
      politically correct acknowledgement of the enemy.

      "Symbols matter," he recently wrote to his group's members.

      The Bush administration certainly realizes the truth of that
      statement. It touted the stamp at a Ramadan banquet at the White
      House this month.

      And during videoconferences arranged by the State Department in the
      last year, Feiz Rehman, communications director for the American
      Muslim Council, mentioned the stamp to Islamic school principals and
      religious leaders in Bulgaria.

      "As an American, I'm proud of it," he said. "It sent a good message
      out to world. That's an American message of diversity, coexistence
      and tolerance."

      Contact Gaiutra Bahadur at 856-779-3923 or bahadug@....



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