Juan Cole: Why I Find It Hard to Shed a Tear for Cat Stevens

I know that it is faintly ridiculous that Cat Stevens a.k.a. Yusuf Islam was deported on Wednesday from the U.S. after the airplane he was on was diverted to Maine, on the grounds that he is a dire security threat to the country. David Letterman in his monologue allowed darkly as how the Feds were no doubt gunning for Gordon Lightfoot next. He also wickedly observed that despite Osama Bin Laden being at large, what with Cat Stevens deported and Martha Stewart in jail, he felt a lot safer.

But I have a hard time rushing to Yusuf Islam's defense because I never forgave him for advocating the execution of Salman Rushdie in 1989. He endorsed Khomeini's "fatwa" or death edict against Rushdie for the novel, Satanic Verses. He later explained this position away by saying that he did not endorse vigilante action against Rushdie, but would rather want the verdict to be carried out by a proper court. These are weasel words, since he was saying that if Khomeini had been able to field some Revolutionary Guards in London to kidnap Rushdie and take him to Tehran, it would have been just dandy if he were then taken out and shot for having written his novel. In my view, that entire episode of the Khomeini fatwa showed how sick some forms of Muslim activism had become, and served as a foretaste of al-Qaeda's own death warrant served on a lot of other innocent people.

And, the disavowal wasn't even consistent. The AP reported on March 8, 1989, that "Cat Stevens Endorses Rushdie Death Sentence Again," writing:

Former pop singer Cat Stevens reiterated his support for the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death sentence against Salman Rushdie, saying the author's treatment of Islam was"as good as stabbing Moslems in the heart." ..."It's got to be seen as a deterrent, so that other people should not commit the same mistake again," Stevens said in an interview with the television show "World Monitor," produced by the Christian Science Monitor ... Stevens, who said the novel's treatment of Islam was"as good as stabbing Moslems in the heart," suggested that Rushdie should repent writing the book." If he manages to escape (the death sentence) he still has to face God on the day of judgment," he said. "So I would recommend to him to sincerely change his ways right now."

At the time, Rushdie's life was in imminent danger, and Cat Stevens was skating pretty close to inciting to murder. (What else is the "deterrent" he is talking about?)

So, to steal from Bill Maher:

NEW RULES: If you advocate the execution of novelists for writing novels, you and John Ashcroft deserve one another.

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Lisa Kazmier - 9/25/2004

I, too, found it highly ironic that a man who had stood for peace endorsed a fatwa. This amounted to censorship, among other things. And that is exactly what happened to him. A narrow-minded government agency probably used its "watch list" to censor a Muslim individual who has been vocal in a view unpopular to them, not unlike a narrow-minded cleric issuing a fatwa. Louis XVI could only wish for such effectiveness I suppose.

This parallel might serve to be illuminating, to the policies of this government (previously using their "watch list" against the Muslim scholar hired by Notre Dame; while I have no personal experience with him, the fact that Notre Dame hired him to me speaks volumes in "vetting" what he is about) and also the previous utterances by Mr. Islam. I don't necessarily "feel sorry" for him, but I think a great lesson exists for him as well as those bothering to pay attention.

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