Wednesday, September 22, 2004

I have two reactions when I hear about Yusuf Islam, aka Cat Stevens. One is a bit embarrassing: I still like some of his songs, which I think hold up a lot better than those of other '70s soft-rockers. The other has to do with the Salman Rushdie fatwa: He supported it, and I can't forgive him for that. So when I read that a London-to-D.C. flight on which he was a passenger was diverted to Maine because he was onboard and that he's now going to be deported, I have trouble working up outrage.

You may have heard that he didn't really call for Rushdie's death. But here's the 1989 press release in which he attempted to correct what he saw as misleading press accounts:

Yusuf Islam Issues A Formal Statement On The Rushdie Affair

Under Islamic Law, the ruling regarding blasphemy is quite clear; the person found guilty of it must be put to death. Only under certain circumstances can repentance be accepted.

...However, that is not to say I am encouraging people to break the law or take it into their own hands: far from it. Under the Islamic Law, Muslims are bound to keep within the limits of the law of the country in which they live, providing that it does not restrict the freedom to worship and serve God and fulfil their basic religious duties (fard'ayn). One must not forget the ruling in Islam is also very clear about adultery, stealing and murder, but that doesn't mean that British Muslims will go about lynching and stoning adulterers, theives and murderers. If we can't get satisfaction within the present limits of the law, like a ban on this blasphemous book, 'Satanic Verses' which insults God and His prophets - including those prophets honoured by Christians, Jews as well as Muslims - this does not mean that we should step outside of the law to find redress. No. If Mrs. Thatcher and her Government are unwilling to listen to our pleas, if our demonstrations and peaceful lobbying don't work, then perhaps the only alternative is for Muslims to get more involved in the political process of this country. It seems to be the only way left for us.

So in his clarification he said death was the proper punishment for Rushdie, if only the law permitted it, and at the very least he wanted the book banned under Britain's blasphemy laws.

Hey, but it's all academic, right? Rushdie's alive and well, and Khomeini's dead. Yes, but:

In 1989, two bookstores in Berkeley, California were firebombed [for selling the book]. That same year, two moderate Muslim leaders, after publicly expressing opposition to the censorship of the book, were murdered in Brussels, Belgium. In July 1991, Ettore Capriolo, the Italian translator of The Satanic Verses, was stabbed by an assailant who demanded Rushdie's address. That same month, Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of the novel, was found stabbed to death at Tsukuba University. In October 1993, publisher William Nygaard, whose firm published a Norse translation of The Satanic Verses, was seriously wounded by gunshot outside his home in Oslo.

These are people very much like the people I work with, and like the people I worked with at the time. So I'm a bit sensitive about this subject.

I loathe Bush and Ashcroft, but many years ago Stevens/Islam poured a few drops of gasoline on a fire that really did burn some people. He may not deserve to be treated as a current threat to American society, but what he said in '89 was not harmless.

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