Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Back in 1971 (yes, I remember it), Cat Stevens released the song “Peace Train”. Ostensibly lamenting war and promoting peace, the lyrics included lines like “Oh, I‘ve been smiling lately dreaming about the world as one, and I believe it could be” and “Now I’ve been crying lately, thinkin’ about the world as it is. Why must we go on hating?”
Then, he converted to become a Muslim. Now, this is not an anti-Muslim post. In fact, the Quran is based on the teachings of Moses, and largely reflects the Christian “Old Testament” and the Jewish Torah. All of these very large religions have similar (if not identical) roots. Frankly, I don’t understand bias against religions. Every religion has extremists that do not represent the religion as a whole, and, yes, that includes Christianity. If you don’t believe me, just ask any KKK member their take on it.
Unfortunately, then an author named Salmon Rushdie published a book called “Satanic Verses”. This book was apparently insulting to the Muslim faith in its portrayal of, as I understand it, Mohammad. Some Muslims called for the immediate assassination of Rushdie, including, unfortunately, Cat Stevens, author of the song “Peace Train”. I was working as an analytical chemist when this happened, and I never understood the angst. My girlfriend at the time tried to explain it to me, saying “how would you feel if somebody called Mary a whore?” Well, frankly, they can call her anything they want. It won’t change my opinion of her. It might change my opinion of the person trying to be offensive to Christians, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with them, and I certainly wouldn’t call for the death of someone for their art.
A few years ago, John Stewart as host of the Tonight Show was organizing some kind of concert or show. As I recall, it was a concert calling for peace, so, of course, you would want to include the author of Peace Train, right? Unfortunately, he seemed to have forgotten the Rushdie incident, and inviting Cat Stevens to the concert drew a lot of criticism. But I have to admit, one of the reasons I truly respect and like John Stewart is because, once he was reminded of the incident, he immediately canceled Cat Stevens’ participation, and apologized for inviting him in the first place.
A couple of years later, John was being critical in many of his dialogues on his show of the hypocrisy of many members of the Republican party. One of his targets shot back at John, reminding him of how he invited Cat Stevens to a concert for peace and what had happened with Rushdie. John’s response was perfect. He showed the clip of the individual in the press conference and pointed that he took Cat Stevens out of the concert as soon as it was pointed out to him.
I’m not sure why I wanted to write about Rushdie. But I can tell you that Cat Steven’s actions are a great example of words and actions. Singing about peace and calling for murder is so hypocritical that it’s difficult to even think it could have actually happened, but believe me, you can’t make this kind of thing up.
Ultimately, Salmon Rushdie never was killed. He basically fled and was assisted by the British government. He disappeared for many years, and slowly became a vocal political activist when the heat seemed to dissipate. Last I heard, he is now retired in London (although that was many years ago). But it’s not like he managed to go without paying for his work. He did have to flee his home and never did return (to the best of my knowledge).
I don’t know if Rushdie is a hero or not. He write his book, he paid the consequences for doing so, and he did survive, but it’s not like he really had a choice. Once published, the threats against his life went out. Standing up to those calling for his death would have been fruitless and would have amounted to little more than assisted suicide. The only choice he had to survive was, indeed, to run.
Honestly, I think I need to read Satanic Verses. I know the story, maybe I need to figure out what the issue was. But whatever it is that he wrote, the interesting thing is that the book is actually better known now because of those who called for him to be killed. The chances of my having heard of it would be nearly zero if it wasn’t for this extreme response to it.