According to novelist Salman Rushdie, Comedy Central star Jon Stewart appears to be unapologetic for featuring Muslim extremist folk singer Cat Stevens (a.k.a. Yusuf Islam) at his Rally to Restore Sanity last Saturday. Stevens has previously supported a long-standing Islamic death sentence against Rushdie.
Standpoint magazine’s Nick Cohen spoke to Rushdie this morning, who told him that: “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.”
After Rushdie penned The Satanic Verses in 1988, Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him, claiming that the book was “blasphemous against Islam.”
Stevens, a Muslim convert, has reiterated his support for the death sentence on multiple occasions, most recently in 1997. When asked during a 1989 interview whether he would take part in a protest that burned Rushdie in effigy, Stevens replied that “I would have hoped that it'd be the real thing.” The singer has never apologized for endorsing the fatwa.
Michael Weiss at The New Criterion calls out Stewart for his hypocrisy, and notes that Stevens is far more extreme than the conservatives Stewart regularly mocks on his show:
Yet as Stewart makes clear by his every off-camera action (and every other on-camera one), he's as hypocritical and spin-doctored as any thundering Beltway egomaniac he lampoons.
Would it be rude to guess at his decision to invite Cat Stevens, a.k.a. Yusuf Islam, to perform at last weekend's mass rally in implausibly denied partisanship at the National Mall? Who better than a Greek-American convert to Islam with multi-platinum records under his caftan to combat the vicious demonization of Muslims by the Tea Party and anti-mosque fanatics.
Except that Yusuf Islam is a right-wing fundamentalist who makes Sarah Palin look like Bella Abzug. Nothing is more of a ratings boost for that hebephrenic pseudo-historian Glenn Beck than exhibiting a medieval apologist for murder as a spokesperson for "sane" America.
Journalist Andrew Anthony has more on Stevens’ radical positions, which are completely out-of-sync with the theme of Stewart’s “sanity” rally (via Nick Cohen at Standpoint again):
"[Stevens] told me in 1997, eight years after saying on TV that Rushdie should be lynched, that he was in favour of stoning women to death for adultery. He also reconfirmed his position on Rushdie. He set up the Islamia school in Brent, which is currently undergoing council-backed expansion. Its mission statement three years ago explicitly stated that its aim was to bring about the submission of the individual, the community and the world at large to Islam. For this aim it now receives state funding. Its an incubator of the most bonkers religious extremism and segregation, and is particularly strong on the public erasure of women. Why do people go to such lengths to ignore these aspects of Yusuf Islam's character and philosophy?”
UPDATE: While Stevens did seem to back away from his support of the fatwa in a Rolling Stone interview in 2000, as well as in a statement posted to his own website, he still hasn't explicitly apologized for his earlier comments about Rushdie. Ron Radosh writes at Pajamas Media:
Those who commented on my post yesterday, pointing out that Yusuf “Cat Stevens” Islam’s two statements do not in fact apologize directly for his approval of the fatwa against Rushdie are correct. He still denies saying what he in fact very clearly did say. Before anyone should ask the singer to appear at their event- especially one that is supposedly meant to foster harmony and sanity- Yusuf Islam should be asked to clearly and unequivocally repudiate his past statements, and admit that he in fact made them.