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Ed Driscoll

Video: Riding the Peace Train

October 30th, 2010 - 11:54 am

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Earlier today, Yusuf Islam, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens, whom you may remember from such 1970s hits as “Peace Train” and “The First Cut is the Deepest” appeared at Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity.” Mediaite has the video of his appearance there, and notes:

Wow. The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear just had a Battle of the Bands between Yusuf Islam (also known as Cat Stevens and Ozzy Osbourne. The ‘pro-sanity” part of the rally (lead by Jon Stewart) introduced Mr. Islam who sang “Peace Train,” only to be interrupted by Stephen Colbert (the ‘pro-fear’ part of the rally) who proceeded to introduce a surprisingly lucid Mr. Osbourne who sang “Crazy Train.” The battle was effectively a draw, only to be resolved by a surprise appearance by the O’Jays who sang “Love Train.” And the world began to heal.The inclusion of Yusuf Islam in the Rally to Restore Sanity is sure to raise a number of eyebrows, given the controversy surrounding his alleged support of the fundamentalist Islamic fatwa against author Salman Rushdie. As Andy Levy tweeted “Rally To Restore Fatwas?” Yusuf has since asserted that he was simply joking and his comments were taken out of context. In the years that has followed, he has repeatedly denied ever calling for the death of Rushdie or supporting the fatwa.

Hmmm. The peace train certainly seemed very much off the tracks in 1989, when he discussed Rushdie on a BBC roundtable discussion show called Hypotheticals.

At least at the moment, Wikipedia has a pretty good page on how the interview went:

On February 21, 1989, Yusuf Islam addressed students at Kingston University in London about his conversion to Islam and was asked about the controversy in the Muslim world and the fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie’s execution. He replied, “He must be killed. The Qur’an makes it clear – if someone defames the prophet, then he must die.” [5]

Newspapers quickly denounced what was seen as Yusuf Islam’s support for the assassination of Rushdie and the next day Yusuf released a statement saying that he was not personally encouraging anybody to be a vigilante,[1] and that he was only stating that blasphemy is a capital offense according to the Qur’an.

However on March 8, 1989, while speaking in London’s Regents Park Mosque, Yusuf Islam was asked by a Christian Science Monitor reporter how he would “cope with the idea of killing a writer for writing a book.” He is reported to have replied:

In Islam there is a line between let’s say freedom and the line which is then transgressed into immorality and irresponsibility and I think as far as this writer is concerned, unfortunately, he has been irresponsible with his freedom of speech. Salman Rushdie or indeed any writer who abuses the prophet, or indeed any prophet, under Islamic law, the sentence for that is actually death. It’s got to be seen as a deterrent, so that other people should not commit the same mistake again.

Two months later Yusuf Islam appeared on a British television program, BBC’s Hypotheticals, an occasional broadcast which featured a panel of notable guests to explore a hypothetical situation with moral, ethical and/or political dilemmas. In the episode, (“A Satanic Scenario”) Stevens/Islam is recorded having this exchange with moderator and Queens Counsel Geoffrey Robertson:[6][7]

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

The New York Times also reports this statement from the program: [If Rushdie turned up at my 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.[8]

The content of the broadcast was reported in the New York Times on May 23, 1989,[8] a week before the show’s planned airing. He and other Muslim participants “objected to cuts” that “omitted the Muslim justification for punishment of blasphemy.

The above video appeared on YouTube in late 2007, which is when I snagged it, assuming it would be relevant again. And thanks to Jon Stewart…it is.

Update: Ed Morrissey adds:

What I find amazing about this is that two stars from Comedy Central would share the stage with a man who supported the idea of murdering an artist for his remarks on Islam. The producers of South Park got death threats from radical Muslims for attempting to depict an image of Muhammed in one of their recent episodes, and the executive management of Viacom forced them to censor the show in fear of Muslim reaction. Now, two of Viacom’s most recognizable television stars have linked themselves to a man who publicly endorsed that exact kind of threat — as a way to “restore sanity.”

Earlier, I guessed that the rally would just be a waste of time. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert managed to turn it into a despicable, offensive embarrassment. Isn’t that … ironic?

Earlier today, Wyatt Andrews of CBS’s Morning Show told the Tiffany Network’s cocooned viewers:

Stewart and Colbert actually have a permit for 60,000 people to rally for sanity and/or fear. So [far], who’s appearing on the stage today is still part secret, but we’re told it’s going to be entertainers and not politicians. Who’s actually coming to this rally? Almost all of the folks we found said they hope it’s about the moderates of America.

Phew! I’d hate to see what it would have looked like if any extremists took the stage.

(Or were in the crowd.)

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