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U.S. News
Target yanks valentines with word 'Jihad'

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

By Gary Rotstein, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Target stores yesterday removed from its 1,148 locations nationwide thousands of boxes of children's valentines that included the word "Jihad" on some of the cards inside.

Nicholas Poillucci with the box of valentines he purchased for his 3-year-old daughter to distribute to preschool classmates. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)

A publishing company quickly explained that the word -- a name tag stuck on what looks like a child's school mail slot or cubby and surrounded by handmade valentines -- was not a reference to the Arabic term used by Al-Qaida terrorists for holy war.

A Lawrenceville father's contention that the word was inappropriate prompted removal of the cards. On Sunday, he took the FBI with him when he raised the issue at the Waterfront Target in Homestead.

Nicholas Poillucci bought the cards there the day before for his 3-year-old daughter to distribute to preschool classmates this week.

"My wife and I thought it was very inappropriate, post-9/11," Poillucci said. "And after thinking about it some more, our imaginations ran away with us, and we wondered if it was intended as some kind of message."

Scholastic Inc., publisher of the popular I Spy puzzle series on which the cards are based, said the Jihad on the cards was an innocent reference to a boy of that name. A photographer in 1995 took a picture of mail slots in a third-grade classroom that contained various students' names, including Jihad's, and the photo made its way into an I Spy book. Above Jihad's box is one belonging to Lily.

A spokeswoman for Scholastic, the largest children's book publisher and distributor in the world, said a Minneapolis firm, Mello Smello, bought the rights to use I Spy images in Valentine's Day cards. Below the mail slot with Jihad's name on it is a heart-shaped card with an arrow through it and the phrase "It's time to be mine" above a picture of a clock.

Mello Smello used the photo containing Jihad's name even though Scholastic had changed the name to Jared in a new version of the I Spy School Days book printed after Sept. 11, 2001. That change came after several complaints about the original name, the spokeswoman said.

Scholastic Inc., publisher of the cards, said the "Jihad" in this image on some of the cards was an innocent reference to a boy of that name. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)

Al-Qaida terrorists use jihad to refer to holy war against the United States and Western culture, but it also has a longtime meaning from the Quran for personal struggle against evil.

Jihad is not an uncommon name. In 2001, 16 Pennsylvania babies received the name Jihad, the same number as for Duncan and Toby. No totals for 2002 are yet available.

"Since 1995, I guess the word 'jihad' has other meanings, but in fact, it is a child's name," said the Scholastic spokeswoman, who did not want to be identified.

Brie Heath, a spokeswoman at Target headquarters in Minneapolis, said the interpretation of the term wasn't the issue -- it's that it bothered Poillucci and some other customers, or "guests" as Target calls them.

"The guest was very upset about it and let the store know and let others know. When we look at it, we can see where guests could be uncomfortable," Heath said.

She said she could not provide figures on how many boxes of the valentines, available for weeks for $2.99 a box, were sold or withdrawn. "They're all being pulled and destroyed," Heath said, declining to comment on how any financial losses would be worked out with Mello Smello or Scholastic.

Asked if Target had any concerns that terrorist messages could be conveyed in the valentines, Heath said, "I don't think so, but I'm not an expert."

The FBI, which is supposed to have expertise on terrorist matters, has the Jihad valentines under investigation, said its Pittsburgh spokesman, Bill Crowley. After Poillucci contacted police Sunday, an FBI agent went to Poillucci's home and accompanied him to Target.

Considering the Bush administration's decision Friday to put the nation on a level-orange high alert about threats, Crowley said, "we feel it's appropriate for the government to ask people to call in about anything that may be unusual, and it's our responsibility to check things out."

Poillucci, whose work as a plumber yesterday was interrupted by media questions about the cards, said he was glad to hear the explanation that they were not intended to be menacing. He's also pleased, however, that they were removed.

"I still believe somebody [associated with I Spy] should have caught it before it hit the stores," he said. "With us about to go to war, I don't think it's a good idea to have the word 'Jihad' printed on one of our kids' valentine's cards."

Gary Rotstein can be reached at grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.

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