September 28, 2004
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.
I was 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
"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.
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
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