September 11: International “Listen to Yusuf (Cat Stevens) Day”

Posted September 11, 2010

Here’s something to listen to if you’re not close enough to protest the bigoted “Burn a Koran Day” publicity stunt proposed by Gainsville, FL pastor Terry Jones.

Yusuf Islam was an international pop star under his previous name, Cat Stevens. After converting to Islam in the 1970s, he decided to escape from the world of commercial music. (In fact, his choice of the name “Yusuf” refers to the Story of Joseph, who was bought and sold in the marketplace). His conversion coincided with the growing Muslim population in his native England, and as a result he has been one of the more public targets of anti-Muslim xenophobia in that country, with scandals that claimed he endorsed the Iranian government’s fatwa against author Salman Rushdie, or was linked to Hamas or Hizbullah.

Three years after September 11, 2001 and the rise of Islamophobia in the United States, he was treated to a taste of American-style racial profiling when he was pulled from a flight and detained, based only on his Muslim name.

In response, he wrote this song, featuring Dolly Parton, called “Boots and Sand” [no transcript available, sorry!]:

Boots and Sand for Yusuf Islam from MadeByFreeForm on Vimeo.

One of the ironies of celebrity status in capitalist culture is that the day-to-day experiences of these icons achieves a kind of magnified importance and meaning… and this includes experiences with oppression faced by celebrities who belong to socially marginalized groups. I think cultural work, like this song and video, can work alongside organizing against Islamophobia to humanize the dehumanized.

And am I the only one to think that the “wanted” poster of Cat Stevens looks kind of like Alberto Korda’s iconic portrait of Che Guevara?


One response to “September 11: International “Listen to Yusuf (Cat Stevens) Day””

  1. Enna Avatar

    Isaac, to answer your last question, no you are not the only one to see a connection between Korda’s portrait and Yusuf Islam. I was a fan of Cat Stevens before his conversion, and I am a fan now. And I don’t mean simply a fan of his current or former music. I am a fan of his character, honesty, and integrity.

    Thanks for putting your thoughts out there, Isaac.