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Nick Cohen
Sunday 31st October 2010
On Giving Up

 

Jon Stewart's Rally for Sanity yesterday featured Yusuf Islam aka Cat Stevens singing "Peace Train". Islam/Stevens previously showed his commitment to peace and sanity by saying that death was the appropriate punishment for Salman Rushdie's "blasphemy".

He has tried to wiggle out of it and issued all kinds of denials.

But here is what he said to Geoffrey Robertson QC in 1989. (Video here.)

Robertson: You don't think that this man deserves to die?
Y. Islam: Who, Salman Rushdie?
Robertson: Yes.
Y. Islam: Yes, yes.
Robertson: And do you have a duty to be his executioner?
Y. Islam: Uh, no, not necessarily, unless we were in an Islamic state and I was ordered by a judge or by the authority to carry out such an act - perhaps, yes.
[Some minutes later, Robertson on the subject of a protest where an effigy of the author is to be burned]
Robertson: Would you be part of that protest, Yusuf Islam, would you go to a demonstration where you knew that an effigy was going to be burned?
Y. Islam: I would have hoped that it'd be the real thing.

And here is what Rushdie said about him

However much Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam may wish to rewrite his past, he was neither misunderstood nor misquoted over his views on the Khomeini fatwa against The Satanic Verses (Seven, April 29). In an article in The New York Times on May 22, 1989, Craig R Whitney reported Stevens/Islam saying on a British television programme "that rather than go to a demonstration to burn an effigy of the author Salman Rushdie, 'I would have hoped that it'd be the real thing'.''

He added that "if Mr Rushdie turned up at his doorstep looking for help, 'I might ring somebody who might do more damage to him than he would like. I'd try to phone the Ayatollah Khomeini and tell him exactly where this man is'.''

In a subsequent interview with The New York Times, Mr Whitney added, Stevens/Islam, who had seen a preview of the programme, said that he "stood by his comments".

Let's have no more rubbish about how "green" and innocent this man was.

Salman Rushdie, New York

 

  What "Cat" ought to have done was apologise to Rushdie and commit himself to the right to criticise power in whatever form it takes, but he has not and American leftists have yet to learn that they cannot be a little bit liberal. They can't denounce the idiocy of Fox and ignore the idiocies of religion. Maybe they will never learn.

I'm close to giving up.

PS Just had this message from Rushdie: "I've always liked Stewart and Colbert but what on earth was Cat Yusuf Stevens Islam doing on that stage? If he's a "good Muslim" like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar then I'm the Great Pumpkin. Happy Halloween."

PPS: Just had this from my marvellous Observer colleague Andrew Anthony: "He told me in 1997, eight years after saying on TV that Rushdie should be lynched, that he was in favour of stoning women to death for adultery. He also reconfirmed his position on Rushdie. He set up the Islamia school in Brent, which is currently undergoing council-backed expansion. Its mission statement three years ago explicitly stated that its aim was to bring about the submission of the individual, the community and the world at large to Islam. For this aim it now receives state funding. Its an incubator of the most bonkers religious extremism and segregation, and is particularly strong on the public erasure of women. Why do people go to such lengths to ignore these aspects of Yusuf Islam's character and philosophy?

 

 
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mikerattlesnake
November 9th, 2010
9:11 PM
Oh c'mon, people. Yeah, Cat Stevens is now a horrible, religion soaked jihadist who should not be supported by anyone with a modicum of decency in their body. That said, he was part of this rally so that they could juxtapose "peace train" with "crazy train". It sucks that they picked such a despicable artist, but the decision was not political, rather it was in service of a pretty decent joke. This does not say anything about "the american left" or liberal politics (or at least no more so than the choice of Kid Rock does), it just shows that these guys weren't planning a strictly political rally and were more concerned with the jokes. I don't agree with the decision to bring Yusef on (unless he made a sincere public apology for all the shitty things he said and worked to make some reparations), I'm an atheist, and I'm a liberal. If people want to choose political sides based on who is responsible for deaths at the hands of islamic extremists, lets look at the people who gave weapons to the taliban in the 80's and the folks who started a war that continues to generate more young islamic terrorists than any folk singer could ever rile up.

jonathan colwill
November 7th, 2010
8:11 PM
He also said other people working on satanic verses should be on the death fatwa thats also in the film hes suppressed . I saw the whole film when it aired you wont see it because of copyright claims by mr moderate, people were murdered during the rushdie affair. If your a famous person and you go on national tv and say you want to see someone burned alive, and that anyone working on the books a target and some people working on the book get killed Id say your partly guilty . incitement to murder... terrorism I'm not a lawyer but something like that . it was a chilling show to watch never seen anything like it

Harry Mallory
November 2nd, 2010
11:11 AM
"I'm being followed by a criuse missile, criuse missile, criuse missile." -Yusuf Islam

Derek Pasquill
November 2nd, 2010
10:11 AM
Giving up is not an option.

Joe in London
November 2nd, 2010
10:11 AM
He's being followed by a mad mullah, mad mullah, mad mullah…

snoot
November 2nd, 2010
5:11 AM
So a person isn't allowed to change his/her mind? Looking back, I said some dumb things in 1989 too. So what?

amie
November 1st, 2010
8:11 PM
noga: I always consoled myself that at least there is only one Gilad Atzmon. After reading your link about the jaw dropping Oren Segal, I groaned:there goes son semblable, son frere.

Eric
November 1st, 2010
4:11 PM
I think a more important question deals with a different performer - Ozzy Osborne. Do Stewart and Colbert tacitly approve of dental bat decapitation or frenzied drug use?

Eddie
November 1st, 2010
3:11 PM
"Peace Train"? No. "Taqiyya Train".

Nicole
November 1st, 2010
3:11 PM
Because death is peaceful.

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About Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom (Fourth Estate). Living With Lies, a collection of his writing for Standpoint, is available as an ebook. 

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