Cat Stevens aka Yusuf Islam’s performance in the Rally To Restore Sanity has irked a number of people across the globe as the singer is still to come out of the Salman Rushdie controversy. The singer performed the acoustic and melodious version of ‘Peace Train’ which was interrupted by Stephen Colbert to introduce the Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne.
The singer had come under heavy criticism after he showed support for the fatwa against Salman Rushdie during the Satanic Verses controversy. Later, however, Yusuf Islam tried to retract the statement saying that he was taken out of context and the statements were blown out of proportion. Salman Rushdie himself, however, explained in a statement that he was convinced that Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam wanted him dead, no matter how much he defended himself by saying that he was taken out of context.
According to Yusuf Islam, however, the controversy was created by the media and he was pulled into it unnecessarily. He explained that he was appalled at the newspaper heading that said that he wants Salman Rushdie dead. Yusuf Islam had appeared in an interview during the controversy and said that he would prefer the real thing being burned instead of the effigies in the protests. He also said that if Salman Rushdie turned up at his residence for help, he would notify the person who issued the fatwa. In spite of directly admitting that the punishment for Salman Rushdie’s crime should be death. Later he said that it was is dry British humor that got misinterpreted.
Here are the statements Stevens made at the time (from Wikipedia):
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."
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,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:
Robertson: You don't think that this man deserves to die?
Y. Islam: Who, Salman Rushdie?
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.
The content of the broadcast was reported in the New York Times on May 23, 1989, 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."
Personally, I hope that Stewart will apologize for including Stevens at the event, and presenting him, of all people, as an emblem of peace and moderation, because I think that otherwise he will lose all credibility as a satirist of hypocrisy...
(Edited PS: As a bonus for those who for some reason are blase about his statements about Rushdie, here's what he thinks of homosexuals:
Yusuf Islam (the former pop star Cat Stevens), has condemned positive portrayals of homosexuality in school sex education lessons, accusing those who advocate such policies of wanting to "feast off the innocence of our children for their own abominable sexual appetites".