In 1997, Andrew Anthony interviewed Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam about his political and religious beliefs. That interview is stored in the Web Archive cached copy of Yusuf Islam’s own website.
Back in 1997, Yusuf Islam favoured an Islamic State:
It’s an unremittingly narrow view of the world that to my liberal-secular mind appears suspiciously medieval. As if to emphasise its vintage, Yusuf says that for a proper example of how society should be run, we must go back to the seventh century. The Medina, where the Prophet united a group of warring tribes into a God-fearing fighting force, was and remains the ultimate community model. More than 1,300 years of technological and cultural advances, it seems, have not remotely lessened its all-encompassing aptness.
He believed that, in such a state, women who confess to adultery should be stoned to death:
He runs through the argument, sometimes echoed apologetically by cultural relativists, that the only real emancipation for women lies within Islam. But it’s an imposed freedom that is mostly prescribed and enforced at root by men. At its most superstitious and extreme, of course, it manifests in female circumcision. It has also led, most recently in Afghanistan (Song), to women being stoned to death for the crime of adultery. Yusuf, who is an active member of the Supreme Council of British Muslims, claims that these reports have been greatly overplayed. ‘The law on adultery states that you need four live witnesses to the actual event.’ Therefore, he points out, these women must have confessed. Even if they did, I reply (and who knows how the confessions were gained), it’s a frightening prospect. ‘Yes, I agree, it’s frightening. That’s the purpose. Not to cause pain, but to safeguard society from one of the greatest ills: jealousy and war between men fighting over women.’ At no time during our conversation does Yusuf raise his voice or lose his temper. He is open and warm and patient. One could say that he takes himself very seriously, but that would be unfair. He takes his religion seriously. And that, unfortunately, is what makes him such a disturbing, if oddly decent, character.
He believed that apostates should be extradited to an Islamic State, to face likely execution:
Yusuf’s response to this situation is to call for a change in international law. He speaks euphemistically of Rushdie, ensuring that he never actually mentions his name nor that of The Satanic Verses, while making it obvious who and what he means.
When I point out that Rushdie has not contravened any laws of this country, Yusuf says: ‘Yes, but you have extradition. And if the extradition request is there . . .’ Presumably he means from Iran, a country not renowned for displaying the most stringent respect for international law. He compares the novelist’s situation to that of Ronnie Biggs, with whom, by coincidence, he shared a Rio hotel in the Seventies. I ask him what it is about blasphemy, if that is what Rushdie has committed, that warrants a death sentence.
‘Look at it rationally,’ says Yusuf, without a sniff of irony. ‘It’s not the breaking of one law, it’s the thin end of the wedge whereby,’ and here he comes up with a malapropism that would surely make Rushdie smile, ‘all that is held sanctimonious can be demolished.’ Still, can he not see that it would be good for Islam if there was some reconciliation. He concedes this point and says that hope may lie in the fact that Islamic scholars have yet to give their judgment on the issue, before adding: ‘We believe the conclusion would be the same.’ The conclusion being a death sentence? ‘I don’t know, the scholars would have to work that out, not me,’ he laughs with mock relief.
I’ve seen some pretty disgusting views from ‘tea party’ types. Lunacy over Obama’s birth certificate. Attempts to teach creationism in schools. Opposition to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. Not to mention the hysteria over socialised medicine.
However, to be frank, these views are worse than most of those you encounter in the ‘tea party’ movement. They are very very extreme political views indeed, and opposed to progressive politics. As far as I can see, he has not publicly abandoned these views.
I’d guess that Jon Stewart or his researchers failed to ask Yusuf Islam whether he still supports the political positions that he outlined above. They really ought to do so now.
As I mentioned yesterday, Yusuf Islam may have changed his views since 1997. Prior to becoming a Muslim, he believed in UFOs:
Later, having regained his composure, he confided in the interviewer his interest in UFOs. ‘The flying saucers aren’t any indication of going crazy. I believe that they exist. You know, I feel them around sometimes.’ Going crazy seemed to be a major preoccupation at the time. ‘What I am afraid of,’ he admitted, ‘is my mind. Of going crazy. Because your mind is something that you really don’t know. I don’t think I will go crazy, but the chance is always there.’ He also expressed the worry that he might suddenly vanish.
None of this would really matter, if these were simply the views of a private man. However, Yusuf Islam’s connection with the Islamia School, which he founded, and which receives state funding, means that they ought to be examined and revisited.