The appearance of Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) at Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” has sparked controversy. At Hot Air, Allahpundit explains why. You can also read these two articles by Nick Cohen in Standpoint magazine (UK) for background on the matter. The gist of the issue is that Yusuf Islam has said that Salman Rushdie, who famously authored The Satanic Verses, deserved to die for his blasphemy against Islam. That is, when faced with a choice between Rushdie and Ayatollah Khomeini (who issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death), Yusuf Islam chose Khomeini.
This should be enough to see that Yusuf Islam is not a moderate Muslim, and that he instead holds some radical beliefs and doesn’t belong at a supposed “Rally to Restore Sanity.”
Rushdie was obviously disturbed to see that Jon Stewart had no qualms about putting Yusuf Islam up on stage. So, Rushdie spoke to Stewart about it. According to Nick Cohen, here is how Rushdie summarizes his exchange with Stewart:
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.
It is depressing – but not surprising.
Time and again we have seen that some prominent Western leftists have a hard time distinguishing between the vast majority of Muslims, who are not radicals, and jihadists/Islamists/extremists. Rushdie inserted himself into a similar controversy earlier this year when a few officials at Amnesty International objected to their organization’s alliance with a former Gitmo detainee named Moazzam Begg.
The Amnesty officials were concerned because Begg is a self-avowed jihadist and they did not believe that their human rights organization should give Begg a platform for his radical views. The powers that be at Amnesty were left with a choice: Moazzam Begg or their own officials. Amnesty chose Begg – at least one of the officials who objected to Amnesty’s relationship with Begg was suspended and then left the organization.
Salman Rushdie spoke out on the Amnesty-Begg affair. Amnesty International supported Rushdie after Khomeini called for his death, but the organization had clearly lost its moral compass. “It looks very much as if Amnesty’s leadership is suffering from a kind of moral bankruptcy and has lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong,” Rushdie said at the time.
Amnesty’s leaders are not the only ones who have “lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong.” Yusuf Islam is not some champion of the oppressed or legitimate peace activist. Again, read Allahpundit’s post for some of the details on Yusuf Islam’s past. And here is what I wrote for Power Line in 2007:
According to the Middle East Contemporary Survey: 1993 Vol. 17 (Westview Press, 1995), Cat Stevens (aka Yusuf Islam) was among dozens of Islamists who attended Sudan's Popular Arab and Islamic Conference (PAIC) in the early 1990's. There is no information on what Mr. Islam's role was, if he had any role at all, at the conference. But, assuming this source [is] accurate, he certainly keeps dangerous company.
The conference was set up by Sudan's Hassan al-Turabi as part of his attempt to unite various constituencies from throughout the Islamic world into an anti-American, anti-Western front. The conference, as well as Turabi's Sudan in general, was a breeding ground for all sorts of relationships that we have been told couldn't exist. For example, the Iranian-controlled Hezbollah forged a lasting relationship with the Sunni al Qaeda in Turabi's Sudan. Both were represented at the conference Mr. Islam allegedly attended. The results of this terrorist cross-breeding were devastating. Hezbollah's chief terrorist, Imad Mugniyah, even taught al Qaeda's suicide bombers how to build sophisticated truck bombs. Some of the terrorists who received that training went on to destroy the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 - it was al Qaeda's most successful attack prior to September 11, 2001.
The PAIC made room for an odd collection of anti-American forces. In addition to Mr. Islam, Hezbollah, and al Qaeda, all of the following terrorist sponsors or terrorist groups were reportedly represented: the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Saddam's Baathists, Syria's Baathists, George Habash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and various other terrorist groups with al Qaeda affiliations from Yemen, Pakistan, Algeria, and Syria. The list goes on and on.
These meetings certainly must have presented an interesting spectacle, to say the least. Someone should ask Mr. Islam for his recollections of the event. He should also be asked if he agrees with Turabi's view: “America incarnates the devil for Muslims. When I say Muslims, I mean all the Muslims in the world.” And, if he doesn't agree with that sentiment, then why did he attend a conference organized with that theme?
That question stands to this day.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.