Thirty-three years ago, while singing under the name Cat Stevens, Yusuf Islam had no idea how unintentionally comic and prophetic the lyrics to a gently strummed song he had recorded would sound nearly a generation later.
"Oh, baby, baby, it's a wild world," he sang in a more patchouli-friendly era. "It's hard to get by just upon a smile."
It's a lot harder to get by just upon a smile these days. Ask the folks at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. After diverting his London-to-Washington flight to Bangor, Maine, they booked Yusuf Islam a seat in premium class on the first Peace Train out of America.
According to Homeland Security, the former pop star's United Airlines flight was diverted midflight when his name was flagged on the government's "no fly" list.
The government would have us believe that every name that pops up on its "no fly" list poses an imminent threat to airline safety. That's why Sen. Ted Kennedy has been having such a hard time catching the red-eye to Hyannispor t on the weekends after his name turned up on the list.
Homeland Security insists that, politics aside, no one in the Bush administration considers Kennedy a "terrorist." That doesn't mean it still isn't touch-and-go for Teddy whenever he ambles up to the ticket counter at Reagan Internation al.
After reassuring his daughter that everything would be all right, Yusuf Islam was hustled to an interrogation room somewhere in the bowels of the airport and questioned closely. How, exactly, did an "Islamic radical" with a trail of soft rock classics and benign charity work behind him penetrate the well-patrolled gates of Fortress America?
Suddenly it was Yusuf Islam's turn to look an uncomprehending American bureaucrat in the eye and say what should've been obvious to anyone who has ever kissed a girl on a basement couch while "Oh Very Young" played in the background: I'm not a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer.
Though the government has yet to reveal its case about Yusuf Islam's alleged ties to Hamas and other terrorist groups, it has hinted that money the singer donated to Islamic and Palestinian charities was later funneled into various acts of terrorist aggression. But why bother with proof when merely asserting that someone has terrorist ties is proof enough in an era of fear and smear? Proof? We don't need no stinkin' proof!
Given how tenuous the standard for truth for even the most outlandish accusations is these days, Yusuf Islam should thank Allah that the government didn't ship him straight to "Gitmo" if half the things it says about him are true.
While it stretches credulity to believe that a man who was allowed to enter the country as recently as May to promote a live concert DVD is the same guy the government now calls a menace to aviation, it's too much to expect consistency from those charged with protecting our borders. Was Yusuf Islam's name on the "no fly" list four months ago or not?
Before getting his autograph, the security guards apologized for treating Yusuf Islam like a common shoe bomber, but rules are rules.
Even the guy who sang "Morning Has Broken" has to bow to the humiliating politics of hysteria after Sept. 11, 2001.
These days Cat Stevens i s a terro rist while Oliver North, who sold weapons to Iranian mullahs and used the profits to fund Contra terrorists in Nicaragua, has a show on Fox News.
Disgraced televangelist Jimmy Swaggart told his parishioners last week that if a gay man looked at him funny he would "kill him and tell God he died." He got lots of laughs.
When Yusuf Islam told an interviewer that he considered the author of "The Satanic Verses" worthy of death, he was rightly condemned but unjustly accused of being a terrorist.
Will Swaggart be considered a terrorist for his equally hateful statements or just a homophobic nut?
But what am I saying? Everyone knows that only Muslims can be terrorists!
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