FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Expulsion of Cat Stevens

by GARY LEUPP

Oh, peace train, take this country.
Come take me home again

Cat Stevens (aka Yusuf Islam), 1971

 

“With respect to Cat Stevens … our Homeland Security Department and intelligence agencies found some information concerning his activities that they felt under our law required him to be placed on a watch list and therefore deny him entry into the United States. In this instance, information was obtained that suggested he should be placed on the watch list and that’s why he was denied entry into the country.”

Colin Powell, September 14, 2004

Cat Stevens in 1978 announced that he had converted to Islam, becoming Yusuf Islam. This itself wouldn’t have been a big issue to fan like me. After all, there were Muslim pop singers like Jimmy Cliff, and singers into all kinds of religion. But he simultaneously gave up singing, finding his own work sinful and embarrassing, and even asked his record companies to stop circulating his material. So it seemed like Islam, his version of it anyway, had stolen Cat Stevens from us.

But Stevens was my favorite singer-songwriter in high school, and loving his work, admiring his versatility (doing the artwork for his own album-covers), and knowing that he’d had a difficult life, I always wished him well. If religion brought him peace, I thought he deserved it. During the controversies that followed, including his sympathetic remarks about Khomeini in Iran, and about the Salman Rushdie fatwa affair, I thought he was trying to convey the feelings of Muslims to the western world. (As the London-born son of a Greek Cypriot and Swede, his roots are all over that world.) I didn’t and don’t agree with a lot of what he’s said, but I do think his work reveals a sensitive, decent person. I think the Yusuf of 2004 is still fundamentally the Cat of 1970.

My favorite Cat Stevens song is one of his most popular: “Father and Son,” written for Revolussia, his never-produced musical/film which I take it was set during the Russian Revolution, in which a father gently tells his (Bolshevik?) son:

It’s not time to make a change,
Just relax, take it easy.
You’re still young, that’s your fault,
There’s so much you have to know.

I wondered at the time this came out (1970) about the line “that’s your fault” since of course it’s no young person’s responsibility that he or she is young. But I checked a dictionary and discovered that “fault” can mean “weakness.” The father here is, through Cat’s mellow voice, saying, “The problem is you’re just too young to understand the world.” Go out, settle down, marry, be like me. You’ll be happy.

In that so familiar song, the son responds indignantly, in a contrastingly angry, bitter, but equally confident tone, not directly to the father but to the world he wants to change:

How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again.
It’s always been the same, same old story.
From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen.
Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away.

When I first heard this I was doing what the National Forensics League called “dramatic interpretation,” in which the student takes a scene from a drama and through voice variation and facial angles represents dialogue between two or more actors. I didn’t know this was written as part of a musical which would involve a duet, but was impressed by Cat Stevens performing both roles in this song.

The father repeats the same refrain, with the son interrupting his wise words at the
end:

Away Away Away, I know I have to
Make this decision alone—no

The son inveighs against his father and the world, explaining how all the things he’s come to know inside are hard to face, but harder to ignore. As he repeats at the end “I know I have to go,” the father in the background asks “Why must you go and make this decision alone?” That’s the inconclusive end. It leaves you moved by generational and historical change and the whole complicated human condition. It’s not the work of a narrow mind or potential threat to peace-loving people.

Yet here you have the creator of this piece, and so many brilliant other ones, a man associated with charitable work and the establishment of mosques, boarding a plane with his daughter from London to the U.S., after the normal security checks, planning to do some recording in Nashville. He’s apprehended as a possible terror suspect after the plane was diverted from its flight path to Bangor Maine by U.S. authorities, causing lots of inconvenience to lots of people, and sent back to Heathrow Airport. You have British Foreign Minister Jack Straw protesting to Colin Powell, probably saying “Don’t you think you’re getting a bit paranoid here, and don’t you think this will be seen as ridiculous in the world?” and that very sad figure Powell publicly justifying the action. The inquiring mind turns to the internet to find some rationale, and learns that in 2000 Yusuf Islam was denied admission to Israel, accused of donating funds to Hamas in 1998. He denied any knowing contribution to Hamas.

Yusuf Islam has sponsored orphanages in Hebron. Israeli authorities say such funds have been diverted to Hamas’ violent actions. I have no idea who’s right here. Muslims have to contribute to charities, if able; this is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Just like Mormons have to tithe. And if somebody uses somebody’s donation for other than the intended purpose (as happens, all the time, in contributions to respectable mainstream institutions in the U.S.) some government can say the donor supported that unintended purpose—and so should be on a watch list, or list of inadmissible persons. It can just smear people it wants to keep out.

The broad message of the Cat Stevens Incident is: even a ’70s rock star with millions of dollars and millions of fans, and no possible connection to 9-11, or any likely desire to ever inflict any harm on this country, can’t enter Ashcroft’s America if he’s Muslim, has been accused (rightly or wrongly) of ties to Palestinians (rightly or wrongly) accused of violence against non-Americans in a distant foreign country, and has spoken out against war on Iraq. This is to protect the USA from people who “hate our freedoms.”

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu

 

More articles by:

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 22, 2017
Jason Hirthler
Invisible Empire Beneath the Radar, Above Suspicion
Ken Levy
Sorry, But It’s Entirely the Right’s Fault
John Laforge
Fukushima’s Radiation Will Poison Food “for Decades,” Study Finds
Ann Garrison
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party, and the UK’s Socialist Surge
Phillip Doe
Big Oil in the Rocky Mountain State: the Overwhelming Tawdriness of Government in Colorado
Howard Lisnoff
The Spiritual Death of Ongoing War
Stephen Cooper
Civilized, Constitution-Loving Californians Will Continue Capital Punishment Fight
Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla
Cuba Will Not Bow to Trump’s Threats
Ramzy Baroud
Israel vs. the United Nations: The Nikki Haley Doctrine
Tyler Wilch
The Political Theology of US Drone Warfare
Colin Todhunter
A Grain of Truth: RCEP and the Corporate Hijack of Indian Agriculture
Robert Koehler
When the Detainee is American…
Jeff Berg
Our No Trump Contract
Faiza Shaheen
London Fire Fuels Movement to Challenge Inequality in UK
Rob Seimetz
Sorry I Am Not Sorry: A Letter From Millennials to Baby Boomers
June 21, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
Resist This: the United States is at War With Syria
James Ridgeway
Good Agent, Bad Agent: Robert Mueller and 9-11
Diana Johnstone
The Single Party French State … as the Majority of Voters Abstain
Ted Rall
Democrats Want to Lose the 2020 Election
Kathy Kelly
“Would You Like a Drink of Water?” Please Ask a Yemeni Child
Russell Mokhiber
Sen. Joe Manchin Says “No” to Single-Payer, While Lindsay Graham Floats Single-Payer for Sick People
Ralph Nader
Closing Democracy’s Doors Until the People Open Them
Binoy Kampmark
Barclays in Hot Water: The Qatar Connection
Jesse Jackson
Trump Ratchets Up the Use of Guns, Bombs, Troops, and Insults
N.D. Jayaprakash
No More Con Games: Abolish Nuclear Weapons Now! (Part Four)
David Busch
The Kingdom of Pence–and His League of Flaming Demons–is Upon Us
Stephen Cooper
How John Steinbeck’s “In Dubious Battle” Helps Us Navigate Social Discord
Madis Senner
The Roots of America’s Identity and Our Political Divide are Buried Deep in the Land
June 20, 2017
Ajamu Baraka
The Body Count Rises in the U.S. War Against Black People
Gary Leupp
Russia’s Calm, But Firm, Response to the US Shooting Down a Syrian Fighter Jet
Maxim Nikolenko
Beating Oliver Stone: the Media’s Spin on the Putin Interviews
Michael J. Sainato
Philando Castile and the Self Righteous Cloak of White Privilege
John W. Whitehead
The Militarized Police State Opens Fire
Peter Crowley
The Groundhog Days of Terrorism
Norman Solomon
Behind the Media Surge Against Bernie Sanders
Pauline Murphy
Friedrich Engels: a Tourist In Ireland
David Swanson
The Unifying Force of War Abolition
Louisa Willcox
Senators Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Tom Udall Back Tribes in Grizzly Fight
John Stanton
Mass Incarceration, Prison Labor in the United States
Robert Fisk
Did Trump Denounce Qatar Over Failed Business Deals?
Medea Benjamin
America Will Regret Helping Saudi Arabia Bomb Yemen
Brian Addison
Los Angeles County Data Shows Startling Surge in Youth, Latino Homelessness
Native News Online
Betraying Indian Country: How Grizzly Delisting Exposes Trump and Zinke’s Assault on Tribal Sovereignty and Treaty Rights
Stephen Martin
A Tragic Inferno in London Reflects the Terrorism of the Global Free Market
Debadityo Sinha
Think Like a River
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail