American Qur’an

IT IS HARD, SOMETIMES, to know whether to cry or curse. Cursing satisfies the soul but a heart-felt expletive is better when it is blurted out loud. It just does not look right in print. A good curse deserves to be said in full, not weakened with bowdlerizing fig leaves: @#$!%!!  Besides, there really are not enough bodily orifices up which Sandow Birk should be advised to stow his Qur’an project. His head. And his promoters’ heads. So I cry instead.

Here is why. Through my e-box yesterday, came this exhibition announcement:

There’s exactly one place in NYC this month where you’ll be able to imagine some alternate reality where Islam is part of hearty homeland American life.  And if you’re Glenn Beck, well, your worst nightmare is coming to PPOW Gallery on Sept. 10th. For his American Qur’an project, Sandow Birk has been laboriously writing out each verse of the Qur’an in English, lavishly illuminated with the fishers, golfers, farmers, and Hispanic bodegas of contemporary American life. Birk’s visual style scrambles Islamic books, Western manuscripts, and the cholo graffiti of his LA neighborhood. He apparently began this massive, multi-year project because he knew nothing about the Qu’ran.

Obviously not. But, like all publicity whores, he knew something about timing. The show opened yesterday, 9/10, on the eve of the anniversary of the first attack on mainland America in the country’s history. Nine years ago, nineteen murderous Qur’an readers hijacked three planes to kill Americans and trumpet the resurgence of historic Islamic intentions to dominate the West. Today, a theatrically shallow Chelsea gallery commemorates the slaughter with a snide exhibition intended to make us view the Qur’an as cute and huggable. Pat the Bunny for the multiculti crowd.

Sandow Birk, Sura 15:10b

The complexities of the relationship between Western and Middle Eastern societies have been heightened since the events of September 11th, and the lack of knowledge about Islam and Qur’an . . . is something Birk realized he and most Americans struggle with. . . . Birk presents a new version of this holy book that is more accessible and also shows how the teachings can applied to the daily experiences of American life.

The complexities of the relationship between the West and Middle Eastern societies [read Islamic]? It is only complex to useful idiots torturing language to avoid mentioning the simple fact that Muslims have been trying to kill us since the 7th century. And they have done a good job of it. Islamic North Africa, remember, was once Christian territory. It contains the locales where a brutal Arab merchant and assassin picked up a confused handful of Judeo-Christian rudiments and ran with it. All the way to the Battle of Tours, near Portiers.

Charles de Steuben, Battle of Portiers, October 732

The gallery’s press release takes Birk’s bogus good will stunt at face value:

Birk hopes to reflect how consistent the similarities are in the teachings of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. To bring this to light enables more understanding and compassion, versus fear of the unknown.

Thoughtful readers will wonder why Birk did not make his reflections before starting his project. If he had, he might have noticed that Islam, unlike Judaism and Christianity, is the only religion that makes slaughter of the infidel a theological imperative. To the extent that there are peace-loving Muslims, it not unreasonable to think of them as Jack Muslim.  Moderate Muslims might exist, but Islam is not a moderate religion. It has been a menace to its neighbors throughout the greater part of its history. Only the defeat, and subsequent decline, of the Ottoman Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries tempered its bloodlust.

Birk sounds as if he is channeling Feisal Abdul Rauf, the slippery slum-lord iman behind the Ground Zero mosque:

How better to commemorate 9/11 than to urge our fellow Muslims, fellow Christians and fellow Jews to follow the fundamental common impulse of our great faith traditions.

Common impulse? Rauf has a fine grasp of the kinds of things that appeal to lazy, why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along Western ears. In reality, and despite that soothing, relativizing construction called “the three Abrahamic faiths,” Islam is a thing apart from Judaism and Christianity. Islam, and only Islam, is propelled by a theological imperative to slaughter. [Not to mention the Qur’an-based barbarities of Shariah law: violent misogyny; honor killings; the hanging or crushing of homosexuals; amputations and stonings—all waiting to be “applied to the daily experiences of American life.”]

This is not the place for extended recitations from serious historians, theologians, and sociologists of religion. You can do your own homework. But start with a few words from Franz Rosenzweig, who understood Islam as “a parody of revealed religion.” Allah is an apotheosized, arbitrary despot, “the colorfully contending gods of the pagan pantheon rolled up into one.”.  His appraisal of Islam, and its intentions toward the West, are indispensable. In 1920, he prophecied:

The coming millennium will go down in world history as a struggle between Orient and Occident, between the church and Islam, between the northern peoples and the Arabs.

Note the word millennium.

Hilaire Belloc, writing in the beginning of the 20th century, had a similiar insight. He referred to Islam as “an indirect supporter of neo-paganism,” and saw no reason Islam would not rise again to menace Western civilization. But the old warnings are scorned by a spoiled, heedless generation that reduces colossal, civilizational conflict to a delusional cartoon put-on.

Kirk, after all, is not alone in his cretinous project. His wise-ass, pop culture knowingness has been been supported, since the mid-1990s, with an NEA International Travel Grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Getty Fellowship, a City of Los Angeles Fellowship, and a residency at the Smithsonian. All he needs now is State Department sponsorship, and he can join Iman Rauf on one of his junkets to the Middle East. [Why Birk needed to travel to Islamic countries—as he did—to “research” this pretense to religious bridge-building is a mystery. American Qu’ran is a studio product that has “Made in L.A.” stamped all over it.]

Today is September 11th. Leave the last word to Belloc, who saw the writing in the sand ninety years ago. Viewing the ancient ruins of Timgad, an old Roman metropolis in what is now Algeria, Belloc wrote: ” . . . as we laugh, we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond: and on these faces there is no smile.”

Update: A reader writes to ask if the NEA would consider funding a “Piss Mohammed” project. Good question. To the NEA’s discredit, we all know the answer. [John Sloan once defended federal funding for the arts on the grounds that its choices would let us know who the enemy is.]

Update II: Someone has just pointed out to me a fine discussion of Birk’s project on Creeping Sharia. In includes Birk’s disclaimer that this is not a “real” Koran because it is not written in Arabic. [So he can keep his head on his shoulders, I guess.] Follow the links to more images.

© 2010 Maureen Mullarkey

4 Comments


  1. In an interview, Birk said he hoped his project would lead Americans to understand more about Islam. The blind leading the blind.


  2. It is time for so-called intellectuals to get down to the basics of judging Islam by its actual doctrine, not making lame analogies that are sophomoric assertions. Or illustrations.


  3. I stumbled on this interesting project through your website. Thank you for bringing it to my attention, I’ll be sure to let as many people know about it as I can. From what I read, it seems the artist has been working on the project for many years, including ten years spent traveling in Islamic nations, yet you say he’s a publicity whore? I’m impressed with his open-mindedness and the thought and time and research he’s put into it so far. However, I’m confused as to your anger at this project? Are you saying an American citizen shouldn’t be able to buy the Koran and read it for herself? Are you saying the artist shouldn’t be able to form her own opinions and make works about them? Have you actually seen the project, or are you just slamming sight-unseen?


  4. No, Susan, I am not saying we should not read the Koran for ourselves. Quite the opposite. But while we are entitled to our own opinions about it, we are not entitled to imagine our own facts. My objection is not to Birk’s using the Koran as the basis of an art work. I object to his sheer ignorance, however well meant, of what he is dealing with. It’s the California dreamin’ complacency about a text that calls for our subjection, yours and mine, to dhimmitude or death. Read any of the books by Robert Spencer, The Dhimmi by Bat Ye’or, the work of Daniel Pipes and the Middle East Forum, The Legacy of Jihad by Andrew Bostom, or Islam and Human Rights by Ann Elizabeth Mayer. Read Ibn Warraq. Do the homework that Birk did not do before you decide whether Birk’s project is open-minded or mindless.

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