Muslim activists plan demonstrations today in Washington and several other U.S. cities against a get-well card they say is offensive to their faith.
Officials at Chicago-based Recycled Paper Greetings say that the card is meant to be funny and, despite two death threats, won't be pulled from stores.
The card's cover features a veiled woman and the words: "Rather than confront her morbid fear of germs, Millicent changed her name to Yazmine and moved to Tehran." Inside are the lines: "So, you're feeling like Shiite. Don't Mecca big deal out of it."
Shi'ite Muslims constitute Islam's second-largest branch.
"The card perpetuates stereotypical and bigoted sentiments toward Muslims that create a climate of hostility," said Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington. "... It's like someone issuing a card showing the crematoriums at Dachau with the line, 'Can't take the heat? Then get out of the kitchen.' "
Mike Murray, executive vice president of Recycled Paper Greetings, said his company has received more than 400 telephone complaints about the card, two of which carried death threats. A Chicago police spokesman said the threats are being investigated.
Two small demonstrations organized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations have been held outside the greeting card's offices, and a Muslim man in Lawrence, Kan., spent 18 days on a hunger strike over the card.
"It stuns me that people who are supposed to be religious would issue death threats," Murray said. "We're about fun. We're not about offending people. We're about humor, and that tends to be irreverent."
Hooper condemned any threats, but said he did not believe they were real. Recycled Paper Greetings "is coming on like they're the new Salman Rushdie. Let's not forget who the victim is here."
Murray said the card has been in about 3,000 stores nationwide for about a year and has sold about 50,000 copies. "It's been a very strong seller for a get-well card," he said, adding that the card will not be pulled.
"We're not politically correct. In fact, we're politically incorrect. We're sorry anyone was offended, but any number of our cards end up offending someone and over time almost everyone," Murray said.
A spokeswoman for the Greeting Card Association, an industry trade group in Washington, said Recycled Paper Greetings is not a member of the group but defended its right to publish the card. She called it a First Amendment issue.
"These cards are in racks that people do not have to look at," said the spokeswoman, who declined to be identified.
Industry leader Hallmark Cards has taken a different position on the Muslim card. In a letter to Hooper, Hallmark noted that none of its 200 corporate-owned stores carry the card "or any Recycled Paper Greetings cards, for that matter."
Kimm Fromm Foster, a Hallmark spokeswoman in Kansas City, said Hallmark is alerting its 9,000 independently owned Hallmark stores to Muslim concerns. "We will strongly encourage them to remove the product if they carry it," she said.
Hooper said his group will hold demonstrations today at stores selling the card in Washington, San Francisco, New York and Chicago. An official of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America already has given his support to a boycott. Calling the card "astonishingly insensitive," Daniel Martensen, associate director of the ECLA's ecumenical affairs department, said in a letter to Murray that "should the requests for a public apology to our Muslim sisters and brothers fall on deaf ears in your corporation, I for one will encourage my church (5.3 million members in size) to join in a nationwide boycott."
Martensen said he also would recommend that the National Council of Churches ask its 32 member denominations to back a boycott.