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City of Brass

Below is the text of an email I sent to Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, urging them to make public all the nearly 200 entries to the Draw Mohammed Day contest at Reason magazine. If they consent, I will also update with their reply.

Dear Nick, Matt,

I am a muslim blogger who currently blogs at Beliefnet.

I genuinely appreciate what you were trying to do with Draw Muhammad Day. However, the theme of your winning entries is rather obvious to my mind, suggesting that perhaps you engaged in a little self-censorship of your own, for editorial reasons.

Make no mistake. I thoroughly disagree with your methods. And I have posted my own thoughts on Draw Muhammad Day which I think you may find unexpected, but which I assure you is rather mainstream a perspective within the muslim American community:

http://blog.beliefnet.com/cityofbrass/2010/05/draw-muhammad-day.html

I suspect that the remaining 190 submissions are more susceptible to my critiques than the three you finally chose, none of which I really consider to be true depictions of the Prophet SAW but more a form of satirical commentary on the debate as a whole (exactly the same as Santa in the South Park episode, in fact).

I am writing this letter to you, therefore, to urge you to also make available the 190 other submissions to your Draw Muhammad Day contest. I think that the winners have had their recognition, but youu should have nothing to hide with respect to the other entries.

I intend to reproduce my email to you above at my blog. I ask for your permission to reproduce your responses. Of course, I will not do so if you refuse.

with Regards

Aziz Poonawalla

City of Brass

http://blog.beliefnet.com/cityofbrass

Talk Islam

http://talkislam.info

in hindsight, I wish i’d made clear in that email that I do not want nor care to know the identities of the artists. I just think the submissions should be made public so everyone can see for themselves whether free speech, or hate speech, is the motivation of the participants.

If you agree, then send your own email to Nick and Matt urging them to publish the remaining non-winning submissions. Their email addresses are gillespie@reason.com and matt.welch@reason.com.

You can also add your voice to this on Twitter, by simply re-tweeting (just copy and paste into your twitter client):

open letter to @mleewelch and @nickgillespie to publish all the entries for Draw Muhammad Day: http://bit.ly/9ha6Tr (via @azizhp)

and incidentally, to anyone tempted to send Nick and Matt angry or threatening messages, understand that you are acting in a way contrary to the values of our Prophet SAW and are insulting his memory. If you do so, you are far worse than any caricature.

UPDATE: Matt Welch made the following very courteous reply, and graciously gave me permission to reprint.

Thanks much, Aziz, that’s very thoughtful and appreciated.

We figured that, since the Internet would be filled with every and all matter of more scabrous images, we would curate ones that best underline both the broader points we were making, and the whole issue of representation that was at the heart particularly of the South Park episode that sparked the day to begin with. Since this began with an is he/isn’t he question about Mohammed in a cartoon bear suit — and even *that* was heavily censored! — our images, we feel, get to the heart of the absurdity of that event.

All curating and editing is indeed self-censorship. For example, we did a video recently about the obscenity trial of pornographer John Stagliano without lingering on the most offensive of his images. And, in the course of engaging in this contest, we have shut down a handful comments threads, because we believed that competing depictions of graphic goat-rape fantasies on our storefront was distracting from the points we care about most. Yes, the irony of shutting down comments threads on a free speech issue is not lost on us, but I would in response make two points: 1) Though the internet was thankfully full of individuals participating in the Draw Mohammed day, we were pretty lonely in terms of print publications; and 2) we still are pretty lonely in generally offering unmediated comments at a high trafficked political blog.

These decisions aren’t always easy, and we certainly struggled with them, but I think we have contributed very positively to the free speech debate this week.

Best,
Matt

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