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

November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
Thomas Knapp
Impeachment Theater, 2017 Edition
Binoy Kampmark
Trump in Asia
Curtis FJ Doebbler
COP23: Truth Without Consequences?
Louisa Willcox
Obesity in Bears: Vital and Beautiful
Deborah James
E-Commerce and the WTO
Ann Garrison
Burundi Defies the Imperial Criminal Court: an Interview with John Philpot
Robert Koehler
Trapped in ‘a Man’s World’
Stephen Cooper
Wiping the Stain of Capital Punishment Clean
Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
Murray Dobbin
Is Trudeau Ready for a Middle East war?
Jeiddy Martínez Armas
Firearm Democracy
Jill Richardson
Washington’s War on Poor Grad Students
Ralph Nader
The Rule of Power Over the Rule of Law
Justin O'Hagan
Capitalism Equals Peace?
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: From the Red Sea to Nairobi
Geoff Dutton
The Company We Sadly Keep
Evan Jones
The Censorship of Jacques Sapir, French Dissident
Linn Washington Jr.
Meek Moment Triggers Demands for Justice Reform
Gerry Brown
TPP, Indo Pacific, QUAD: What’s Next to Contain China’s Rise?
Robert Fisk
The Exile of Saad Hariri
Romana Rubeo - Ramzy Baroud
Anti-BDS Laws and Pro-Israeli Parliament: Zionist Hasbara is Winning in Italy
Robert J. Burrowes
Why are Police in the USA so Terrified?
Chuck Collins
Stop Talking About ‘Winners and Losers’ From Corporate Tax Cuts
Ron Jacobs
Private Property Does Not Equal Freedom
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail