[Editor's note: This is a revised and extended version of a blog which appeared yesterday]
On July 4, the Web site of Live Earth announced that "music legend" Yusuf (formerly Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens, and before that Steven Demetre Georgiou) would headline the Live Earth concert in Hamburg, Germany on July 7, closing the show there. This is a man who has advocated Salman Rushdie's death. According to press reports, he closed the show. For anyone who has somehow managed to escape the hype, Live Earth was a "24-hour, 7-continent concert series taking place on 7/7/07 that brought together more than 100 music artists and 2 billion people to trigger a global movement to solve the climate crisis" a.k.a. "Global Warming." Former U.S. VP Al Gore, Jr. and his Alliance for Climate Protection (he's the chairman of the board) were partners in Live Earth with Kevin Wall, a producer of the previous international crypto "We Are The World" mega event, the July 2005 Live 8 concerts. Gore appeared and spoke at the Washington, D.C. Live Earth event on the Mall and in Giants Stadium in New Jersey, shuttling between the two venues by energy-efficient train, having given up on plans to do London and New York on the same day, for fear of being cricized for his energey usage. He appeared at other venues by satellite. In the U.S., NBC owned TV networks and cable channels devoted several score hours of programming to Live Earth all day Saturday July 7 and into the next day. It was streamed on the Internet by MSN. Back to Yusuf: In February 1989, Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the execution of author Salman Rushdie, accused of blaspheming Islam in his best selling novel The Satanic Verses. Yusuf, at the time going by the name Yusuf Islam (he converted to Islam in the 1970s and gave up playing music soon after), was asked about the controversy during a British television program, "A Satanic Scenario," taped on April 15, 1989 and broadcast nationally on Britain's Independent Television Network the following month. According to an article by Craig R. Whitney in the New York Times, "Cat Stevens Gives Support To Call for Death of Rushdie" published on May 22, 1989, "rather than go to a demonstration to burn an effigy of the author Salman Rushdie" Yusuf said on the program that (direct quote) "I would have hoped that it'd be the real thing." Whitney went on to report:
He also said that if Mr. Rushdie turned up at his doorstep looking for help, "I might ring somebody who might do more damage to him than he would like."
"I'd try to phone the Ayatollah Khomeini and tell him exactly where this man is," said Mr. Islam, who watched a preview of the program today and said in an interview that he stood by his comments.
Two months before the ITN program taping, on February 21, 1989, Yusuf was asked about the fatwa during a speech at Kingston University in London. According to Wikipedia, "He claims to have stated only the legal consequences from the Qur'an-that blasphemy is a capital offense-and not actually have made any claims of support for the fatwa." Newspapers, however, rushed to criticize Yusuf for allegedly supporting Rushdie's killing. The controversy spread to the U.S., where Cat Stevens' music was banned by many radio stations and Los Angeles talk radio host Tom Leykis used a bulldozer to destroy thousands of Stevens' records and CDs. Yusuf remained quiet about the controversy for years. In a fawning interview, "Cat Stevens Breaks His Silence," published June 14, 2000, Rolling Stone took his side in the dispute. In the interview's introduction, Andrew Dansby wrote, inaccurately as it turns out (keep reading):
For more than a decade, Islam's name has been mud for "endorsing" the Ayatollah's fatwa against author Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses. If you're enamored with the notion of an endless scavenger hunt, try to find that endorsement somewhere in writing. As happens, with the passing of time fiction become fact, myth becomes legend.
In the Rolling Stone interview, Yusuf said:
I had nothing to do with the issue other than what the media created. I was innocently drawn into the whole controversy. . .
For years after that, I have been viewed as someone capable of saying such words and doing such things, which I never actually said or did!
Dansby, the interviewer, asked Yusuf this leading question:
Did you consider taking legal action?
Yusuf: Legal action was never considered; in retrospect, perhaps it should have been.
Today, Yusuf is back to his silent ways. On July 6, 2007, The Times (London), published a lengthy, positive feature article about Yusuf's comeback as a musician, "Notions of Islam." According to the author of the article, Pete Paphides, "Because he refuses to talk about the quotes attributed to him during the Salman Rushdie furore, it's impossible to discover whether his views on that fatwa have moderated." The article noted that Yusuf has applied to the Brent Council to build a £4.5 Islamic cultural center on the grounds of an old church. After all of the denials and obfuscations by Yusuf and the white washings by much of the mainstream media that have gone on ever since 1989, the smoking gun is now available. YouTube hosts a 3-minute excerpt of the April 15, 1989 "Satanic Scenario" program and Yusuf Islam can be seen and clearly heard making the statements about harming and burning Rushdie attributed to him by Whitney in the New York Times.
In addition, the video clip on YouTube of "A Satanic Scenario" (the show was part of Hypotheticals, a series produced by ITN) featured the following exchange between program host Geoffrey Robinson QC (Queen's Counsel) and Yusuf Islam (he was using both names then):
Geoffrey Robinson QC: You don't think that this man deserves to die?
Yusuf Islam: Who, Salman Rushdie?
Yusuf Islam: Yes, Yes.
Robinson: And do you have a duty to be his executioner?
Yusuf Islam: No, not necessarily, unless we were in an Islamic state and I was ordered, let's say, by the judge or by the authority to carry out such an act perhaps. Yes.
Another lengthy puff piece about Yusuf, "The Year of the Cat," was published by the Telegraph (London) Seven Magazine on April 29, 2007. In response, in what should be the last word on the subject (apparently Al Gore wasn't paying attention-or maybe he was), Salman Rushie, in a letter titled "Cat Stevens Wanted Me Dead" published by the Sunday Telegraph on May 6, 2007, had this to say:
However much Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam may wish to rewrite his past, he was neither misunderstood nor misquoted over his views on the Khomeini fatwa against The Satanic Verses (Seven, April 29). In an article in The New York Times on May 22, 1989, Craig R Whitney reported Stevens/Islam saying on a British television programme "that rather than go to a demonstration to burn an effigy of the author Salman Rushdie, 'I would have hoped that it'd be the real thing'.'"
He added that "if Mr Rushdie turned up at his doorstep looking for help, 'I might ring somebody who might do more damage to him than he would like. I'd try to phone the Ayatollah Khomeini and tell him exactly where this man is'.'"
In a subsequent interview with The New York Times, Mr Whitney added, Stevens/Islam, who had seen a preview of the programme, said that he "stood by his comments".
Let's have no more rubbish about how "green" and innocent this man was.
Peter Barry Chowka is a writer and investigative journalist. In 1990-'91 he reported about the lead up to, and the aftermath of, the Gulf War.