Friday, November 12, 2010

'Restoring Sanity' Not So Much

Jon Stewart holds a rally to restore sanity in Washington D.C. and who appears onstage?  Cat Stevens a.k.a. Yusuf Islam, supporter of the fatwa suborning the international murder of Salman Rushdie for the crime of writing a book, and an advocate of stoning women for adultery.

Of the spectacle, Rushdie said in a message to Nick Cohen, “I’ve always liked Stewart and Colbert but what on earth was Cat Yusuf Stevens Islam doing on that stage? If he’s a ‘good Muslim’ like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar then I’m the Great Pumpkin. Happy Halloween."

Rushdie then contacted Stewart to voice his disappointment.  Cohen:

Salman has messaged me again and says,
I spoke to Jon Stewart about Yusuf Islam's appearance. He said he was sorry it upset me, but really, it was plain that he was fine with it. Depressing.
"Pathetic" is the word I would use. If members of the Tea Party said that American intellectuals who renounced Christiainity deserved to die for their apostasy would Stewart be fine with that too? Of course he wouldn't. His eyes would roll, his voice would thunder and that charming schoolboy smile would vanish from his face. He would never forget, until they repudiated.
With intellectuals from the Muslim world, it is a different matter entirely. Stewart does not seem to mind that Cat Yusuf Stevens Islam has never apologized for his support for Salman's murder...
 So, in one of the only stunts presented without irony during a rally for restoring civility in the face of extremism, we got Yusuf Islam.  Andrew Anthony, of The Observer, describes an encounter to Cohen: 
He told me in 1997, eight years after saying on TV that Rushdie should be lynched, that he was in favour of stoning women to death for adultery. He also reconfirmed his position on Rushdie. He set up the Islamia school in Brent, which is currently undergoing council-backed expansion. Its mission statement three years ago explicitly stated that its aim was to bring about the submission of the individual, the community and the world at large to Islam. For this aim it now receives state funding. Its an incubator of the most bonkers religious extremism and segregation, and is particularly strong on the public erasure of women. Why do people go to such lengths to ignore these aspects of Yusuf Islam's character and philosophy?

I like the Daily Show, and the Colbert Report, but this criticism cannot go unmade.  The 'Rally to Restore Sanity' turned out a wet, masturbatory, false-equivalence-fest in which Stewart, by design, paraded himself the pied piper of sanity and civility, all the while happy to appear with an Islamist reactionary who is violently against freedom of speech.  It does wonders for that message of tolerance, doesn't it?

Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice.  Freedom of speech is everything.

(h/t Book Haven)

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