Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 16, 2007

Does the name Jan Egesborg ring a bell? I didn’t think so; the Danish artist has received precious little coverage in this country. Yet he has just done what every politically-minded artist ardently yearns to do: make a powerful and arrogant world leader look ridiculous. Remarkably, this leader is not named Bush but Ahmadinejad.

In December 2006, a group calling itself “Danes for World Peace” took out a half-page ad in the English-language Tehran Times. Five anti-war declarations, in rather plodding English, were printed under a photograph of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

Support his fight against Bush
We are also tired of Bush
Iran has the right to produce nuclear energy
No U.S. aggression against any country
Evil U.S. military stay home

Not until after the ad appeared did anyone notice that the five initial letters of the five-line statement, when read downward, spell out the word SWINE—a word chosen to be as offensive as possible—directly beneath Ahmadinejad’s photograph.

Egesborg is the founder of Surrend, the artists’ collaborative whose stated goal is “to make fun of the world’s powerful men” by means of posters, stickers, and newspaper advertisements. Such street theater has been a staple of agit-prop art since the 1960’s, in Europe as well as America, but it is simply inconceivable that any group of American artists would single out for abuse the figures recently mocked by Surrend, a roster that includes the Belorussian despot Alexander Lukashenko, the Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic, and dictator of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe.

As political art satire goes, Egesborg’s sophomoric stunt comes in somewhat below Animal Farm. On the other hand, to carry it out required an abundance of personal courage, not necessarily the first quality that comes to mind when thinking of performance artists. Moreover, it actually does what contemporary art so routinely promises and just as routinely fails to deliver: it “challenges our assumptions about art,” in this case, the assumption that for contemporary artists there is no tyrant on the earth so despicable as a Republican president. Egesborg’s merry little prank was easily the most important work of political art of 2006.

Does the name Jan Egesborg ring a bell? I didn’t think so; the Danish artist has received precious little coverage in this country. Yet he has just done what every politically-minded artist ardently yearns to do: make a powerful and arrogant world leader look ridiculous. Remarkably, this leader is not named Bush but Ahmadinejad.

In December 2006, a group calling itself “Danes for World Peace” took out a half-page ad in the English-language Tehran Times. Five anti-war declarations, in rather plodding English, were printed under a photograph of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

Support his fight against Bush
We are also tired of Bush
Iran has the right to produce nuclear energy
No U.S. aggression against any country
Evil U.S. military stay home

Not until after the ad appeared did anyone notice that the five initial letters of the five-line statement, when read downward, spell out the word SWINE—a word chosen to be as offensive as possible—directly beneath Ahmadinejad’s photograph.

Egesborg is the founder of Surrend, the artists’ collaborative whose stated goal is “to make fun of the world’s powerful men” by means of posters, stickers, and newspaper advertisements. Such street theater has been a staple of agit-prop art since the 1960’s, in Europe as well as America, but it is simply inconceivable that any group of American artists would single out for abuse the figures recently mocked by Surrend, a roster that includes the Belorussian despot Alexander Lukashenko, the Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic, and dictator of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe.

As political art satire goes, Egesborg’s sophomoric stunt comes in somewhat below Animal Farm. On the other hand, to carry it out required an abundance of personal courage, not necessarily the first quality that comes to mind when thinking of performance artists. Moreover, it actually does what contemporary art so routinely promises and just as routinely fails to deliver: it “challenges our assumptions about art,” in this case, the assumption that for contemporary artists there is no tyrant on the earth so despicable as a Republican president. Egesborg’s merry little prank was easily the most important work of political art of 2006.

Read Less

By far the grandest Islamic place of worship in Britain is the London Central Mosque. At the height of the Battle of Britain in 1940, Winston Churchill offered the site of this splendid building as a gift from the British people to its Muslim citizens. For more than half a century its gleaming golden dome has nestled among the whitewashed Nash terraces in Regent’s Park, whose residents include, among others, the U.S. ambassador. Up to 5,000 people go there for Friday prayers—far more than worship at St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey. Many of the faithful visit the mosque’s bookshop, where they might well pick up DVD’s by those listed on the mosque’s website as its “famous visitors.”

One of these is the American Muslim preacher Sheikh Khalid Yasin, director of the Islamic teaching institute. But Sheikh Yasin is a Wahhabi extremist. His DVD’s denounce the “delusion” of equality for women and demand the death penalty for homosexuals. He accuses the World Health Organization and Christian missionaries of a “conspiracy” to create the AIDS epidemic in Africa and denies that 9/11 had anything to do with “the so-called al Qaeda.”

Another celebrity imam whose DVD’s are on sale at the mosque is Sheikh Feiz Muhammad, who preaches at the Global Islamic Youth Center in Liverpool, New South Wales. Notorious in Australia for his claim that women who are raped “have nobody to blame but themselves,” Sheikh Feiz is seen in one of his DVD’s imitating a pig: “This creature will say, ‘Oh Muslim, behind me is a Jew. Come and kill him.’ They [the Jews] will be [he makes snorting noises]. All of them. Every single one of them.”

These remarks are similar to those of a third “famous visitor,” the Egyptian Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a well-known al-Jazeera commentator: “Everything will be on our side and against Jews on [judgment day]. At that time, even the stones and the trees will speak, with or without words, and say: ‘Oh servant of Allah, oh Muslim, there’s a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”

The former Pakistani ambassador to Great Britain, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, resigned as a trustee of the London Central Mosque in 1996 because he felt it had been taken over by Wahhabism, backed by Saudi money. But a mega-mosque for up to 70,000 worshippers to be built in the East End of London will dwarf the one in Regent’s Park. The London Markaz, funded by the Saudi-backed organization Tablighi Jamaat, will be built next to the site of the 2012 Olympics. If Wahhabi ideology has already taken over the most prestigious mosque in Britain, why is Tony Blair’s government allowing the same thing to happen again on a much bigger scale? As the largest mosque in Europe arises in London, Muslims could be forgiven for supposing that the conversion of Britain to Wahhabi Islam is only a matter of time.

By far the grandest Islamic place of worship in Britain is the London Central Mosque. At the height of the Battle of Britain in 1940, Winston Churchill offered the site of this splendid building as a gift from the British people to its Muslim citizens. For more than half a century its gleaming golden dome has nestled among the whitewashed Nash terraces in Regent’s Park, whose residents include, among others, the U.S. ambassador. Up to 5,000 people go there for Friday prayers—far more than worship at St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey. Many of the faithful visit the mosque’s bookshop, where they might well pick up DVD’s by those listed on the mosque’s website as its “famous visitors.”

One of these is the American Muslim preacher Sheikh Khalid Yasin, director of the Islamic teaching institute. But Sheikh Yasin is a Wahhabi extremist. His DVD’s denounce the “delusion” of equality for women and demand the death penalty for homosexuals. He accuses the World Health Organization and Christian missionaries of a “conspiracy” to create the AIDS epidemic in Africa and denies that 9/11 had anything to do with “the so-called al Qaeda.”

Another celebrity imam whose DVD’s are on sale at the mosque is Sheikh Feiz Muhammad, who preaches at the Global Islamic Youth Center in Liverpool, New South Wales. Notorious in Australia for his claim that women who are raped “have nobody to blame but themselves,” Sheikh Feiz is seen in one of his DVD’s imitating a pig: “This creature will say, ‘Oh Muslim, behind me is a Jew. Come and kill him.’ They [the Jews] will be [he makes snorting noises]. All of them. Every single one of them.”

These remarks are similar to those of a third “famous visitor,” the Egyptian Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a well-known al-Jazeera commentator: “Everything will be on our side and against Jews on [judgment day]. At that time, even the stones and the trees will speak, with or without words, and say: ‘Oh servant of Allah, oh Muslim, there’s a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”

The former Pakistani ambassador to Great Britain, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, resigned as a trustee of the London Central Mosque in 1996 because he felt it had been taken over by Wahhabism, backed by Saudi money. But a mega-mosque for up to 70,000 worshippers to be built in the East End of London will dwarf the one in Regent’s Park. The London Markaz, funded by the Saudi-backed organization Tablighi Jamaat, will be built next to the site of the 2012 Olympics. If Wahhabi ideology has already taken over the most prestigious mosque in Britain, why is Tony Blair’s government allowing the same thing to happen again on a much bigger scale? As the largest mosque in Europe arises in London, Muslims could be forgiven for supposing that the conversion of Britain to Wahhabi Islam is only a matter of time.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.