Guest Column

All aboard the Anti-Hate Train: Why we should boycott Cat Stevens

2017-08-10 14:13
Cat Stevens

Cat Stevens

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Glenn Bownes

I grew up on the music of Cat Stevens. Songs like Matthew and Son, The First Cut is the Deepest and Peace Train moved me deeply as a teen (and still do, to some extent).

So you would think I would be excited that the great song writer was coming to perform in my home city, Cape Town.

You would be wrong.

In fact, not only will I not be buying tickets to his show, I will also be encouraging people to boycott his concerts. Furthermore, I am calling on his sponsors Cape Talk and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (who are providing the concert venue) to do the right thing and retract their support for a hateful bigot.

Why do I say this, you may ask? A little background then.

In 1989, Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini called for the assassination of writer Salman Rushdie after the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses.

Stevens – who in 1976 had converted to Islam, and changed his name to Yusuf Islam – was asked by the British media what he thought of the call to murder Rushdie. In a number of statements, Stevens made it clear that he supported Khomeini's fatwa.

On February 21, 1989, he was asked by a student at Kingston University whether the fatwa against Rushdie was justifiable.

"Rushdie must be killed. The Qur’an makes it clear. If someone defames the prophet, then he must die," was the response of the writer of Peace Train.

Two months later, Stevens/Islam was a panelist on BBC show Hypotheticals.

When host Geoffrey Robertson asked him if he thought Rushdie deserved to die, Stevens/Islam's response was: "Yes, yes!"

Call for Rushdie to be killed

Robertson then asks him: "And do you have a duty to be his executioner?"

"Uh, no, not necessarily, unless we were in an Islamic state and I was ordered by a judge or by the authority to carry out such an act – perhaps, yes," Stevens responds.

Robertson: "Would you give him shelter?"

Stevens/Islam: "Yes, I’d try to phone the Ayatollah Khomeini and tell him exactly where this man is."

Robertson then asks him if he would go to a demonstration where he knew an effigy of Rushdie was going to be burned?

Steven's chilling response is: "I would have hoped that it’d be the real thing; but actually, no, if it were just an effigy I don’t think I’d be that moved to go there."

Then, in 2000, Stevens showed another side to his bigotry.

The British government was looking to a repeal a law banning the "promotion of homosexuality".

Stevens/Islam condemned the move as a further deterioration in religious and moral standards.

"This is part of the deterioration of the moral statutes that we are witnessing day by day," Stevens said.

We have refused bigots platforms before

Now Stevens – who stopped performing his "evil" music for many years after his conversion – is singing in public again.

And now he is performing in South Africa. His Cape Town concerts are being sponsored by Cape Talk, Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden is providing him with a venue, and Webtickets is selling tickets for his shows.

None of them appear to have a problem with the bigotry and hate speech of Stevens.

Last year, after outrage on social media and an online petition, South Africa barred controversial US pastor Steven Anderson from visiting the country because of his anti-gay comments.

Malusi Gigaba, who was home affairs minister at the time, correctly refused Anderson a visa, basing his decision on the fact that our Constitution prohibits hate speech.

Anderson heads up the Faithful Word Baptist Church, which says that homosexuality is an "abomination" which should be punishable by the death penalty.

He had planned to start his "soul-winning marathon" with a breakfast at the Spur in Festival Mall, Kempton Park, and then lunch at the shopping centre's Wimpy.

But, after the public backlash, both food franchises decided to ban him from their premises.

According to News24, Spur Steak Ranches said: "We, as the Spur Group, are reserving our right to prohibit this person [from] entering any Spur restaurants as his views are contrary to the non-discriminatory and openly tolerant stance of our brand."

Do the right thing

And in a statement on its Facebook page, published by News24, Wimpy South Africa wrote: "Anderson is widely recognised for his homophobic pronouncements and has been accused of inciting hate.

"Wimpy has advised Anderson that the business will not permit him to conduct public preaching or religious gatherings in its restaurants. Wimpy reserves the right to prohibit him from entering any Wimpy restaurant."

Premier Hotels and Resorts also decided to put principles before profit, when they also decided to cancel Anderson's bookings.

"As a South African company, we support the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom laid out in this cornerstone of our country's democracy. We reserve the right of admission to any of our properties and will be exercising this right in this instance," the hotel chain said at the time.

So what is the difference between Stevens and Anderson?

Nothing, I would argue, apart from the fact that Stevens has written some pretty good songs in his past life.

We need to be consistent in our treatment of those who want to spread hatred of people based on their skin colour, sexuality, gender, class, religious beliefs, or anything else.

We need to put pressure on Cape Talk, Kirstenbosh Botanical Gardens and Webtickets to do the right thing and pull their support for this, and other, bigots.

Let’s all climb on board the Anti-Hate Train.

- Glenn Bownes is News24's chief sub-editor.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

* Only comments that contribute to a constructive debate will be approved by moderators.

Read more on:    cat stevens  |  racism  |  homophobia
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