I wasn’t going to touch this topic again but came across an interview with Yusuf Islam in last week’s New York Times Magazine that I just got around to reading.
Yusuf Islam was formerly known as Cat Stevens (Steven Demetre Georgiou) before he converted to Islam some thirty plus years ago. His album Cat Stevens – Greatest Hits was and is one of my all time favorite albums–I loved every song on it. I had it in LP and wore out the grooves, and how have it in CD. If you’ve never listened to Cat Stevens, look it up on Amazon and listen to the the little bits of the songs they let you posted. (Somehow the Amazon link is screwed up on this album because I couldn’t get it to work, so I couldn’t create a link) He is a great talent. He gave up his musical career when he converted to Islam, and, in fact, didn’t pick up a guitar for years because he was uncertain as to the Islamic rules on music and didn’t want to make a mistake. He has recently released a new album.
He grew up in London, the son of middle class restaurant owners, and attended Catholic schools. According to his interview he makes more than $1.5 million per year on sales of his previous albums. So, English is his native language, he understands the West, and he is educated and affluent. He contributes much and works for many Islamic charities. He promotes peace and brotherhood. And he came out with a condemnation against the perpetrators of 9-11 and contributed aid and funds to 9-11 survivor charities. So one would think he would be the very model of a modern moderate Muslim.
But then there is the Salman Rushdie affair. When the Grand Ayatollah Khomeini issued the fatwa against Rushdie for what Khomeini considered blasphemy in Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses, Yusuf Islam made some fairly inflammatory statements in condemnation of Rushdie and implied, if not outright said, that he would like to see Rushdie dead.
Then comes the interview in the Times. Yusuf talks about his conversion, his family, his new album, and then the interviewer asks:
For all your devotion to education and good deeds, government officials in various countries have tried to link you to extremist groups, including Hamas. What do you think of Hamas? [A militant Muslim organization listed as a terrorist group by the United States and many other countries]
That’s an extremely loaded question.
Can you try to answer it?
I have never supported a terrorist group or any group that did other than charity and good to humankind.
O.K., but many of us here in the States would like to see moderate Muslims make more of an effort to denounce the extremist fringe of the faith. Very few mainstream Muslims have publicly criticized their radical brethren.
If I am not an example of that, then tell me, Who is?
So would you say you have contempt for a terrorist group like Hamas?
I wouldn’t put those words in my mouth. I wouldn’t say anything on that issue. I’m here to talk about peace. I’m a man who does want peace for this world, and I don’t think you will achieve that by putting people into corners and asking them very, very difficult questions about very contentious issues.
Hmmm. The fact that he wouldn’t answer the question means one of two things: a) he does support Hamas or b) he fears reprisal if he speaks out against them. If it’s the former, then despite his moderate Muslim preachings, he supports a known terrorist organization that would seem to go against everything he believes; if it’s the latter, that speaks volumes to the control such terrorist groups have over the avowed moderate Muslims. In either case it’s an example of why so-called moderate Muslims may not be the peace seeking, just leave us alone, harmless folks that a lot of people think they are.
This is, of course, my opinion. Others may differ. I would be more than happy to hear opposing views, but I won’t respond to them because I simply don’t have the time. If anyone wants to comment on this–I’ll be happy to put the comments up as long as they are civil in tone. I don’t have a problem having my opinions savaged publicly as long as it’s done with at least a veneer of civility.
I’ve always wondered how people with political blogs get such heavy traffic–now I know.
Photo by Kevin Mazur for the New York Times