September 23, 2021

SALMAN RUSHDIE: ‘I’m Afraid Cat Stevens Got Off the Peace Train a Long Time Ago.’

In “The Meaning of Yusuf/Cat Stevens,” Howard Fishman, whom the Post describes only as a “writer, composer and performer based in Brooklyn,” states the key elements of the case matter-of-factly: In 1989, “after Rushdie had officially been targeted because of his portrayal of the prophet Muhammad in his novel ‘The Satanic Verses,’ Stevens had matter-of-factly confirmed that the Koran prescribes death as the punishment for blasphemy.” Confronted on a BBC show, “Stevens was asked directly whether Rushdie deserved to die. ‘Yes, yes,’ he replied, without much hesitation. Were Rushdie, a marked man, to come to him for help, how would he respond? With what he subsequently insisted was nothing more than an ill-advised attempt at dry humor, a straight-faced Stevens said: ‘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.’ When asked whether he would participate in the burning of an effigy of the author, he replied that he would instead hope it were ‘the real thing.’”

Not long after that, I allowed some friends to drag me along to see the alternative rock band 10,000 Maniacs, with which I had been unfamiliar. The 10,000 Maniacs had had a hit with a version of Stevens’s “Peace Train” in 1987. I hadn’t known that until the Maniacs’ Natalie Merchant explained during the concert that the band was not going to play the song, and never would again, because “Cat Stevens has gone insane.” The audience applauded wildly.

It may have been the high-water mark of pop culture support for the freedom of speech.

Fishman details how Stevens/Islam immediately began backtracking amid the furor at the time: He issued a press release “indicating that his comments had been manipulated in the editing room and taken out of context (this, despite the fact that the New York Times reported that Stevens had ‘watched a preview of the program today and said in an interview that he stood by his comments’).”  On his official website, he makes this patently false claim: “I never called for the death of Salman Rushdie; nor backed the Fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini – and still don’t.” In the very next sentence, he blames Rushdie’s book, not Khomeini’s fatwa, for all the trouble: “The book itself destroyed the harmony between people and nations and created an international crisis.”

Salman Rushdie himself would have none of Stevens’ denials, telling Fishman: “For many years, Yusuf Islam has been pretending he didn’t say the things he said in 1989, when he enthusiastically supported the Iranian terrorist edict against me and others. However, his words are on the record, in print interviews and on television programs.…I’m afraid Cat Stevens got off the peace train a long time ago.”

As Dennis Miller said of radical Islam, “We are starting to bridle at how you treat your women, and I don’t like how you f***ed up Cat Stevens.”

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