Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens is a darling of the Western media these days, because he converted to the elites’ favored religion. Critics generally treat Bob Dylan’s “Christian period” as an embarrassing anomaly in his otherwise stellar career, while Yusuf Islam gets a fawning feature in Yahoo Music Sunday to explain his thinking and justify his action.
Yahoo’s Erin Donnelly writes that “the singer who rose to fame as Cat Stevens, and is now known as Yusef/Cat Stevens, is getting candid about his conversion to Islam and the fallout that ensued.” Would Erin Donnelly ever take to Yahoo to publish a lavish puff piece about a singer, songwriter, artist, whatever, who had become an evangelical Christian? Would Yahoo explain with journalistic portent that this artist was finally “getting candid about his conversion,” or would it be much more likely to publish something about how the Christian convert was under fire, his friends were shaking their heads and doubting the soundness of his mind, etc.? You know the answer.
Donnelly then takes us through a brief recapitulation of a story that Yusuf Islam has actually been “candid” about many times before: that of “the 1976 near-death experience that resulted in him turning to the Muslim faith.” The former feline explains: “I was an Englishman. I didn’t know it wasn’t wise to go out at that time of day and take a swim, so I did. I decided to turn back and head for shore and, of course, at that point I realized, ‘I’m fighting the Pacific.’ There was no way I was going to win. There was only one thing to do and that was to pray to the almighty to save me. And I did. I called out to God and he saved me. A little wave came from behind. It wasn’t big. It was just simply pushing me forward. “The tide somehow had changed and I was able to get back to land. So I was saved. I didn’t know what was going to happen next.”
What happened next was that Cat’s brother gave him a Qur’an, and as that other famous convert once said about a different book, every one of them words rang true and glowed like burning coals. “I would never have picked up a Quran,” says Mr. Islam. “But it became the gateway. After a year I could not hold myself back. I had to bow down.”
However, that was when new troubles began for the poor dear. In Turkey, he says, he was “raised on this pedestal,” but it was a different story in the West, or as Yusuf Islam calls it, “the other side”: “But on the other side there were people who said, ‘He’s a bit of a traitor, isn’t he? He’s turned Turk.’”
Yusuf lamented: “That was very difficult because at one point I was an icon of the majority and now I am part of the minority who are looked down upon and certainly, to a large extent, misunderstood.”
Looked down upon and misunderstood: these are numbingly familiar claims by Islamic advocacy groups in the West, which routinely use claims of victimhood to deflect attention away from how Islamic jihadis use the texts and teachings of Islam to justify violence and supremacism. Yusuf Islam, late to this game, has nonetheless learned to play it well. Everyone, it seems, is so very unkind to this cosseted multimillionaire, and all because Allah saved him, like Jonah, from the waves.
Neither Yahoo’s Erin Donnelly nor the venerable Yusuf, however, make any mention of a few inconvenient facts. One is that as recently as 2010, there was published on YouTube a nasheed in which the author of “Peace Train” sang: “I’m praying to Allah to give us victory over the kuffar” (unbelievers).
This bellicose prayer was in line with Yusuf Islam’s earlier post-conversion behavior. In 1989, he enthusiastically endorsed the Ayatollah Khomeini’s death fatwa against Salman Rushdie for insulting Islam. In a BBC panel discussion, he said that, rather than burning Rushdie in effigy, “I would have hoped that it’d be the real thing.” He further explained that if he were in an Islamic state and was ordered by the relevant authority to kill Rushdie, he would do so.
In 2004, Yusuf Islam was barred from entering the United States because of suspicions that he had been financing jihad terrorism. He acknowledged that some of his money may have gone to jihadis, but he claimed to have given money to them unwittingly.
Yusuf Islam has worked hard to soften his image, and is never asked any questions about any of this. But those questions remain. And now he is claiming victim status even in the middle of a flattering interview. He has become a model convert indeed.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 21 books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.