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Yusuf Islam's Changing Views: Were Stewart and Colbert Taken In? (Updated)

And in 1997, Andrew Anthony of The Observer told this to Cohen:

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?

I have a hunch that Yusuf Islam has evolved in his thinking. He gave up music for twenty years, because he thought Islam forbid such frivolities (all while living very well off his five-year stint as a star from royalties). Then he decided a few years ago to record a record of Islamic spiritual music. Finally, in the past two years, he started to sing and record new pop songs, and to perform his old hits -- as he did at the rally.

But if he has changed, what he has to do is publicly recant his radical fundamentalist views, and apologize formally to Rushdie. If he is indeed a true moderate Muslim, as he wants people to think, nothing less will do. And those who are artists -- like Colbert and Stewart -- must stand with the likes of Rushdie before giving a platform to the possibly unrepentant Yusuf Islam. That is, unless they prefer to stand by their own illusions and ignore reality. Are liberal comics so dense that cannot do what is right?


I have just received the following information from a sharp reader, who sent me the following. I was not aware, nor have I seen the following about Yusuf Islam’s most recent views recently cited anywhere. Here they are:

In a 2000 Rolling Stone magazine interview:

I'm very sad that this seems to be the No. 1 question people want to discuss. I had nothing to do with the issue other than what the media created. I was innocently drawn into the whole controversy. So, after many years, I'm glad at least now that I have been given the opportunity to explain to the public and fans my side of the story in my own words. At a lecture, back in 1989, I was asked a question about blasphemy according to Islamic Law, I simply repeated the legal view according to my limited knowledge of the Scriptural texts, based directly on historical commentaries of the Qur'an. The next day the newspaper headlines read, "Cat Says, Kill Rushdie." I was abhorred [appalled?], but what could I do? I was a new Muslim. If you ask a Bible student to quote the legal punishment of a person who commits blasphemy in the Bible, he would be dishonest if he didn't mention Leviticus 24:16.

On his personal spiritual website he wrote:

I never called for the death of Salman Rushdie; nor backed the Fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini--and still don’t. The book itself destroyed the harmony between peoples and created an unnecessary international crisis. When asked about my opinion regarding blasphemy, I could not tell a lie and confirmed that--like both the Torah and the Gospel--the Qur’an considers it, without repentance, as a capital offense. The Bible is full of similar harsh laws if you’re looking for them. However, the application of such Biblical and Qur’anic injunctions is not to be outside of due process of law, in a place or land where such law is accepted and applied by the society as a whole...

I think this does show that Yusuf Islam has to some degree modified his earlier views. And this should be encouraged. So -- I’ll gladly hum along on “Peace Train.”

UPDATE: Tuesday, Nov.2, 11 AM, EST.

Today, Nick Cohen reports on the conversation he had yesterday with Salman Rushdie. This is what Rushdie told him on the phone:

I spoke to Jon Stewart about Yusuf Islam's appearance. He said he was sorry it upset me, but really, it was plain that he was fine with it. Depressing.

Drawing appropriate analogy, Cohen writes “ ‘Pathetic’  is the word I would use. If members of the Tea Party said that American intellectuals who renounced Christianity deserved to die for their apostasy would Stewart be fine with that too? Of course he wouldn't. His eyes would roll, his voice would thunder and that charming schoolboy smile would vanish from his face. He would never forget, until they repudiated.”

Those who commented on my post yesterday, pointing out that Yusuf “Cat Stevens” Islam’s two statements do not in fact apologize directly for his approval of the fatwa against Rushdie are correct. He still denies saying what he in fact very clearly did say. Before anyone should ask the singer to appear at their event- especially one that is supposedly meant to foster harmony and sanity- Yusuf Islam should be asked to clearly and unequivocally repudiate his past statements, and admit that he in fact made them.

On The New Criterion website, Michael Weiss makes the further very shrewd observation in the form of a question about why Yusuf was invited to participate.  “Would it be rude to guess at his decision to invite Cat Stevens,” Weiss asks, “a.k.a. Yusuf Islam, to perform at last weekend's mass rally in implausibly denied partisanship at the National Mall? Who better than a British-Cypriot convert to Islam with multi-platinum records under his caftan to combat the vicious demonization of Muslims by the Tea Party and anti-mosque fanatics. Except that Yusuf Islam is a right-wing fundamentalist who makes Sarah Palin look like Bella Abzug.  Nothing is more of a ratings boost for that hebephrenic pseudo-historian Glenn Beck than exhibiting a medieval apologist for murder as a spokesperson for ‘sane’ America.”

So far, no response on the air to this from Jon Stewart.