Cat Stevens and the Moderate Muslim Dilemma

One thing that has been overlooked in the whole recent Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens imbroglio is that if he is indeed telling the truth, the implications are even worse than if he is lying.

Islam, the former pop star, was denied entry into the U.S. last week because, according to Homeland Security department spokesman Brian Doyle, “of activities that could potentially be related to terrorism. It’s a serious matter.”

DHS has steadfastly remained mum about what exactly these activities are. Opponents of the department have rushed to fill the vacuum with theories mining both the incompetent and the sinister. Yusuf Islam himself complained: “The whole thing is totally ridiculous. Half of me wants to smile, half of me wants to growl.” Time magazine asserted that it was a case of mistaken identity based on a spelling error: it quoted “aviation sources with access to the list” to the effect that “there is no Yusuf Islam on the no-fly registry, though there is a ‘Youssouf Islam.'” The Muslim American Society chipped in with the sinister angle by posting at its website a message from a leftist blogger named Kurt Nimmo, asserting that Bush kept the singer out of the U.S. “as a public relations ploy in an effort to seize control of airline passenger lists ??¢â???¬ ¦ and also portray a famous Muslim and peace activist as a terrorist in support of Hamas.”

DHS wouldn’t have had to work very hard to portray the ex-Cat as a supporter of the terrorists of Hamas. The connections to the terror group are relatively recent: in 1998, Yusuf Islam spoke at a fundraising dinner sponsored by an organization, the Jerusalem Fund for Human Services, that has been identified by the Canadian government as a Hamas front group. He exhorted his hearers to donate to the group in order to “lessen the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Palestine and the Holy Land.” In 2000, he was denied entry into Israel for donating thousands to Hamas. Again, Islam denied it all, saying: “I want to make sure that people are aware that I’ve never knowingly supported any terrorist groups — past, present or future. It’s simply an attempt to cast doubt again on my character and good intentions.”

So in essence, if Cat Stevens is not a proponent of the global jihad, he is, by his own admission, a dupe. He sent thousands to Israel to support his “brothers and sisters in Palestine”; even if he really didn’t intend it to go to Hamas, it did. This is an indication of what Muslims who do not support terrorism face daily: so many Islamic “charities” have turned out to be terrorist fronts that many whose intentions were quite different have ended up being supporters of terror unwittingly. There is no separation in mosques and Islamic communities between moderate and radical Muslims, and neither camp has shown any indication of wanting to create one.

What’s more, the checkered post-conversion career of the former feline himself indicates that even the moderate/radical distinction itself is not hard and fast. He publicly supported the Ayatollah Khomeini’s death sentence for blasphemy against Salman Rushdie in 1989 (“The Qur’an makes it clear,” said the author of “Peace Train,” that “if someone defames the Prophet, then he must die”), although he has backtracked since then. His statements supporting the Rushdie fatwa are a case in point: now he says he spoke out of new convert’s enthusiasm and based his answer on abstract considerations of Islamic law, not intending actually to support the novelist’s murder — thereby saying something about both Islamic law and converts. Khomeini’s fatwa, as Cat the student of Islam had no doubt recently learned, was no innovation, but entirely consistent with Islamic law mandating death for blasphemers. And his convert’s zeal, anxious as he was to act upon the newly-absorbed lessons of Islam, has manifested itself in more ominous forms more recently: witness “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh, shoe bomber Richard Reid, dirty bomb hopeful Jose Padilla, and on and on. They didn’t set out to learn “radical Islam” or “moderate Islam.” They just wanted to learn Islam.

Thus if Cat is telling the truth about not supporting terrorism, his case is a striking reminder of the deep crisis within Islam: terror has intertwined itself with the religion so tightly today that it cannot be separated even by those who claim to abhor all that the terrorists stand for. Muslims today can’t seem to ride the peace train even if they want to.