A STAMP STUCK IN CONTROVERSY
- A STAMP STUCK IN CONTROVERSY
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
Contact Gaiutra Bahadur at 856-779-3923 or bahadug@....
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