Guest Column

Yusuf Cat Stevens' and Cape Talk's lack of remorse: A 'sorry' state of affairs

2017-08-21 14:56

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Glenn Bownes

In a recent column, "All aboard the Anti-Hate Train: Why we should boycott Cat Stevens", I challenged Cape Talk, the sponsor of his upcoming Cape Town concerts, to reconsider their support for a unapologetic bigot.

Yusuf Cat Stevens is on record as supporting the call to murder novelist Salman Rushdie. More recently (this century, to be precise) he also called plans to do away with homophobic laws in the UK as "part of the deterioration of the moral statutes that we are witnessing day by day".

He said this alongside Tories who were fighting to have the laws discriminating against gay and lesbian people remain on the books.

Stevens' team has now responded publically in a piece titled, "Cat Stevens: I never called for the death of Salman Rushdie", and published by News24.

The "response", however is just a link to a section of Frequently Asked Questions on Stevens' website. So more a FAQ you, than a genuine attempt to engage.

The copy and paste defence simply repeats his old excuses that he was "just joking", that he was misunderstood, misquoted, and a host of similar reasons trotted out by bigots when they are caught out.

Let's get this straight, these are not apologies:

1) "I was just joking";

2) "I was misunderstood, misquoted, etc";

3) "I am sorry if what I said/did offended you."

The final one is a favourite of people forced to apologise for something for which they are not really sorry. It is an "apology" which, in fact, basically blames the victim for feeling offended and makes it "their" problem: "I'm sorry if you have a problem..."

Along with the link to his old excuses, Cape Talk's AM Programme Manager, Tessa Van Staden, gave this official response:

"Cape Talk places a high premium on reliability, trustworthiness and compassion. Inclusion and balance are at the forefront of everything we do. As a talk station we offer a limited music offering on weekends as part of Solid Gold. Yusuf Cat Stevens’ music resonates with many of our listeners because it evokes feelings of nostalgia, among others. The artist has made headlines for many reasons over the years. We are aware of this particular issue, which Yusuf Cat Stevens openly deals with on his own website, along with many other questions that frequently come up about his life and ideas. We do not feel it appropriate to withdraw our support for the concert based on an allegation that the artist has openly engaged with, and has repeatedly refuted."

Apart from entirely ignoring Stevens' more recent anti-gay statements, Van Staden clearly accepts his excuse that he was "just joking". Let's not forget, this "joke" had some real, terrifying consequences for Rushdie and his family, his publishers and outlets that dared to sell his book, The Satanic Verses. None of them found living in fear particularly amusing, I would wager.

Part of Cape Talk's defence of Stevens, and its support for him, is based on the fact that "Yusuf Cat Stevens’ music resonates with many of our listeners because it evokes feelings of nostalgia". His songs (which I grew up on) evoke a sense of nostalgia in me too: a nostalgia for a time when Stevens sang songs of peace and love, not hate.

One has to wonder which Cat Stevens evokes feelings of nostalgia with Cape Talk: the "joker assassin", the homophobe...

This country's Truth and Reconcilation Commission (which was flawed in many ways) gave us a useful model for apologies and forgiveness.

Two central requirements which perpetrators of abuses had to meet, in order to receive amnesty, were: full disclosure of their crimes, and signs of genuine contrition.

Calling a demand for somebody's murder a joke does not meet this criteria. And caring so little that you don't even deem criticism of your homophobia worthy of a response, doesn't even come close.

I am a firm believer in atonement. People can change for the better. But the first step is always a recognition of one's "crimes", and true contrition.

Then we can talk about forgiveness and reconcilation.

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

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Read more on:    cat stevens  |  salman rushdie

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