Yusuf Islam on his deportation

Op-ed link.

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Something Bad Has Begun

The former Cat Stevens says he hasn’t changed but the U.S. has.
By Yusuf Islam
Yusuf Islam, the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens, was deported to Britain last week after being refused entry into the United States.

September 28, 2004

Iwas flying to Nashville last week with my 21-year-old daughter to explore some new musical ideas with a record label there. Ironically, I was trying to remain low-profile because of the speculation that it might have raised in the music world about a return of “the Cat.” Media attention was the last thing I wanted. But it seems God wanted otherwise.

Toward the end of our journey from London to Washington, the plane was diverted. The captain announced something about “heavy traffic.” After landing in Bangor, Maine, six tall, blue-uniformed officers boarded and surrounded me and my daughter.

“Is your name Yusuf Islam?” they asked.

“Yes,” I confirmed.

“Do you mind coming with us and answering a few questions?”

At that point my heart stopped, and my daughter’s face turned aspirin-white. This was the start of the nightmare.

Three FBI agents escorted me away from my daughter and asked me questions. At first, it sounded like they might have me mixed up with somebody else, as they repeated the spelling of my name.

“No. Y-u-s-u-f,” I carefully spelled out. The agents looked a bit puzzled.

As they continued asking questions, some of their queries were obviously not related to me, so I thought this must be a matter of simple mistaken identity. Whether it was a mix-up or not remained unclear because they weren’t under any obligation to give me a reason; the green visa waiver form I had so neatly filled in earlier had effectively denied me any right to appeal or answers. It was only when an immigration official read out to me a legal reference number that he mentioned some implication with “terrorism” — no further details necessary.

The most upsetting thing was being separated from my daughter for 33 hours — not knowing how she was or when and where we might be united. Because my phone was confiscated, I couldn’t contact my family.

God almighty! Is this the same planet I’d taken off from? I was devastated. The unbelievable thing is that only two months earlier, I had been having meetings in Washington with top officials from the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to talk about my charity work. Even further back, one month after the attack on the World Trade Center, I was in New York meeting Peter Gabriel and Hillary Rodham Clinton at the World Economic Forum!

Had I changed that much? No. Actually, it’s the indiscriminate procedure of profiling that’s changed. I am a victim of an unjust and arbitrary system, hastily imposed, that serves only to belittle America’s image as a defender of the civil liberties that so many dearly struggled and died for over the centuries.

Need I say that any form of terrorism or violence is the antithesis of everything I love and stand for? Anyone who knows me will attest to this. I have spent my life in the search for peace and understanding, and that was mirrored clearly in my music. Since becoming a Muslim, I have devoted my life to education, charity and helping children around the world.

Consistently I have condemned the attacks of 9/11, stating that the slaughter of innocents, the taking of hostages and coldblooded killing of women and children have nothing do with the teachings of Islam. I’ve openly and publicly repudiated the actions of groups that resort to such acts of inhumanity — whatever their names. Any allegations to the contrary are fabricated. The Koran equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of all of humanity.

Ever since I embraced Islam in 1977, people have regularly tried to link me with things I have nothing to do with. Take the Salman Rushdie case as an example, or the regurgitating of the accusation that I support groups like Hamas.

I am a man of peace, and I denounce all forms of terrorism and injustice; it is simply outrageous for anyone to suggest otherwise. The fact that I have sympathy for ordinary people in the world who are suffering from occupation, tyranny, poverty or war is human and has nothing to do with politics or terrorism.

Thank God my daughter and I were relieved of our ordeal and delivered home safely. I also thank all those who prayed for me and supported me through this dark episode; I have never harbored any ill will toward people of God’s great Earth anywhere — and wish the reverse was also true.

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3 thoughts on “Yusuf Islam on his deportation

  1. Enough with the boo-hooing over Cat Stevens. What ordeal did he have to endure? Four hours of waiting to be sent back to Britain or were needles placed under his fingers? Spare me his lame protestations that he is a man of peace. He has been a Salafi jackass for years, and for all I know, he still is. He has no right to come to the US to join the thousands of our homegrown Salafi jackasses and the US could arbitrarily choose to keep him out. Why he’d want to come to this claimed den of kufr, this poor land of the unfree, still baffles.
    What is important, however, is that it appears he was deported at least in part due to a spelling error. I don’t know the whole story but this reason seems implausible on its face. I certainly hope DHS has some better method of identifying terrorists and their sympathizers than a poorly transliterated name. And yes, I said sympathizer — the US can lawfully choose to exclude aliens like the Cat based solely on their choice of association because aliens have no claim to any protection under our law, including constitutional protections. So where sympathizing with Hamas has many fans among US Muslims and such ideas (grotesque as it may be) are protected by the First Amendment, we don’t have to extend any such tolerance to the Cat. So back to the Finsbury Park Mosque with him.

  2. Tony, now you’re putting words in my mouth. I’m not boo-hooing Yusuf Islam at all. This is our first, and most likely only, post about the matter. I agree his politics are little less than clear, and do lean a bit terrorist. I personally don’t think he’s aware enough to realize what he’s gotten himself into regarding the groups he associates with. However, ignorance is no excuse.
    I agree 100% about the typos in DHS. I don’t think it’s as unlikely as you do as there was brief period when I was regularly stopped at airports, a pattern that stopped after someone was arrested who had my last name as his first, and my first as his last, although different spellings on both, and an apparent significant age difference.

  3. Sorry, my comment on the handwringing about Cat Stevens was an observation on the outrage expressed on a number of Muslim-inclined blogs. I did not mean to suggest that Islamicate was devoting too much space to this incident.

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