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FIRST-PERSON: Sticky situation for Muslim stamps

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Talk about bad timing. The new Muslim holiday stamp debuted this fall, just about the time that men chanting “Allah be praised” killed thousands of office workers in New York City. And millions of other Muslims cheered from the sidelines.

The stamp, bearing “Eid” in both English and Arabic, commemorated two festivals, the end of the month of fasting (Ramadan) and the end of the annual season of pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj). It was supposed to mark the arrival of Muslims as treasured, mainstream Americans.

Visit the local post office and you’ll see the Eid stamp front and center on the new holiday stamp poster, twice as big as the new Virgin and Child stamp which is tucked well back behind the Kwanzaa and Hannukah stamps. What gives? Hannukah I can see. The Jews were God’s channels for the Decalogue and the Messiah, the base of the Judeo-Christian culture, but Americas don’t grow out of African tribal animism or Muslim hegemony. [Yes, Kwanzaa and Eid are sanitized, but the rootage is unmistakable.]

It’s clear that the stamp selection committee is working with an agenda other than that of honoring wellsprings of American greatness. Instead, they are proving themselves masters of political correctness, pandering to a range of ideologies alien to both our founders and our best hopes.

I think I can trace the trajectory. In upcoming years, we should look for stamps bearing the following images:

— Lord Krishna. Celebrating the contributions of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna).

— Chicken and Candle. From Africa through South America and the Caribbean, Santaria has brought animal sacrifice to our shores.

— Watchtower. Never mind that Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t pledge allegiance to the flag.

— Pentacle and Ankh. You might add a tiny rendering of the Wiccan watchword, “If it harms none, do what you will.”

— E-meter. The electrode-and-dial contraption should heighten our appreciation of the Scientologists’ “audits.”

— Lion of Judah on Red, Gold, and Green. For Rastafarians, White America is “Babylon,” Ethiopia is Eden, Haile Selassie is a living God, and ganja is a holy smoke, but let’s not get picky.

— Ancient Persian Eagle and Gentleman. You’ll have to visit the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America (FEZANA) web site for the precise image.

— Buddha. Our founding documents make reference to “our Creator,” and Buddhists don’t believe in a personal God, but they seem to fit in okay. Must not matter.

— Moroni, the Angel. Sure, Mormons had to change their doctrine on polygamy to gain statehood, but what could be more American than savvy marketing.

— Torii Gate. Shinto may teach that the gods birthed Japan, but they taught us origami (“paper of the spirits”). Besides, after World War II, the emperor renounced his divinity.

To the stamp selection committee, I say, “Just kidding. Please don’t go down this path.” Or I should say, “Please quit going down this path.”

If an America Rastafarian finds the cure for pancreatic cancer, put him on a stamp and then let the Rastafarians brag about it. If an American Muslim develops graffiti-proof concrete or a freeze-proof personal computer, then give him a stamp, and let the Muslims rejoice in the association. If you think Alice Walker (The Color Purple) is a literary giant, honor her, and then let the Wiccans make hay out of it. If Tom Cruise and John Travolta show up in the “Stars of the 90s” stamp series, let the Scientologists blow their own horn. But please don’t blow the Rastafarian, Muslim, Wiccan, and Scientologist horns yourself.

I hear the church-state separation extremists applauding in the background, but they miss the point. I’m not saying that by celebrating certain faiths, we’re committed to the absurdity of celebrating them all. I believe it quite fitting to recognize the unique contributions of Christianity to America. George Washington didn’t take his oath of office with hand on the Koran. Thomas Jefferson didn’t struggle to edit the Bhagavad-Gita. Ben Franklin was enthralled by the preaching of George Whitefield, not L. Ron Hubbard. Harvard, Princeton, and Yale weren’t originally training schools for Sufi, Sunni, and Shiite clergy. The First and Second Great Awakenings weren’t centered on the Avesta, the writings of Charles Taze Russell, or the Pearl of Great Price. Pilgrimages to Mecca did not annually interrupt the work of Abolitionists.

St. Augustine, San Antonio, Santa Fe, San Francisco, St. Paul, and Sault Ste. Marie weren’t named for khalifs or adepts. Roger Williams didn’t celebrate the care of Kali or Vishnu when he named the town of Providence. It helps drive home the point that America’s debt is specific and enormous.

A Christmas stamp is fitting. An Eid stamp is strange. Yes, let a thousand religions bloom in exquisite American freedom. But don’t go out of your way to cultivate faiths whose relationship to the American ideal is incidental or inimical.

Equally strange is the way in which many American giants have been ignored or shunned by the stamp committee because of their Christian ministry. We have stamps for Geronimo, Elvis, Malcolm X, and Daffy Duck. We’ve honored the racist Ty Cobb, the homosexual Tennessee Williams, the promiscuous Edna St. Vincent Millay and the mad duo, Tweety and Sylvester. We even have one for the Year of the Snake. But we don’t have one for Jonathan Edwards. (Visit http://www.yale.edu/wje for notes on the Edwards 2003 stamp campaign.)

Edwards would be a good start. Then what about Timothy Dwight, John Winthrop, Jeremiah Lanphier, Francis Asbury, Annie Armstrong, and Dwight L. Moody? Each is an American treasure. Just dreaming, I suppose. At best, they’ll have to stand well back in the line, behind Chubby Checker, the Oneida Community, and Pop Tarts.

    About the Author

  • Mark Coppenger