It seem the liberal news/blog sites may not know quite what to say about Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s decision to feature Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) at the “Restoring Sanity” rally.

Islam was brought on to sing his most well known song — “Peace Train” — in a running battle with Ozzy Osbourne. Comedically this worked, er, not all that great.

As an idealogical move it was even worse.  At least Mediaite noted the evident issue:

The inclusion of Yusuf Islam in the Rally to Restore Sanity is sure to raise a number of eyebrows, given the controversy surrounding his alleged support of the fundamentalist Islamic fatwa against author Salman Rushdie. As Andy Levy tweeted “Rally To Restore Fatwas?” Yusuf has since asserted that he was simply joking and his comments were taken out of context. In the years that has followed, he has repeatedly denied ever calling for the death of Rushdie or supporting the fatwa.

Yusuf Islam’s current version of his feelings may not quite square with the fact.  A YouTube video of Islam’s original remarks (in 1989) was, of course, yanked by YouTube.  Ed Driscoll has an excellent post with the original video here.  And Ed Morrisey has another one.

Here’s a transcript of the key section from the 1989 TV program:

Robertson: You don’t think that this man deserves to die?
Y. Islam: Who, Salman Rushdie?
Robertson: Yes.
Y. Islam: Yes, yes.
Robertson: And do you have a duty to be his executioner?
Y. Islam: Uh, no, not necessarily, unless we were in an Islamic state and I was ordered by a judge or by the authority to carry out such an act – perhaps, yes.

[Some minutes later, Robertson on the subject of an protest where an effigy of the author is to be burned]

Robertson: Would you be part of that protest, Yusuf Islam, would you go to a demonstration where you knew that an effigy was going to be burned?
Y. Islam: I would have hoped that it’d be the real thing

Morrissey notes that The New York Times, at the time, that the singer didn’t back down from his remarks:

The musician known as Cat Stevens said in a British television program to be broadcast next week that rather than go to a demonstration to burn an effigy of the author Salman Rushdie, ”I would have hoped that it’d be the real thing.”

The singer, who adopted the name Yusuf Islam when he converted to Islam, made the remark during a panel discussion of British reactions to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s call for Mr. Rushdie to be killed for allegedly blaspheming Islam in his best-selling novel ”The Satanic Verses.” He also said that if Mr. Rushdie turned up at his doorstep looking for help, ”I might ring somebody who might do more damage to him than he would like.”

”I’d try to phone the Ayatollah Khomeini and tell him exactly where this man is,” said Mr. Islam, who watched a preview of the program today and said in an interview that he stood by his comments.

The Telegraph is featuring this reenactment of Islam’s remarks:

The Telegraph also notes the Salman Rushdie wrote to the paper in 2007 about Islam’s views:

Cat Stevens wanted me dead

However much Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam may wish to rewrite his past, he was neither misunderstood nor misquoted over his views on the Khomeini fatwa against The Satanic Verses (Seven, April 29). In an article in The New York Times on May 22, 1989, Craig R Whitney reported Stevens/Islam saying on a British television programme “that rather than go to a demonstration to burn an effigy of the author Salman Rushdie, ‘I would have hoped that it’d be the real thing’.”

He added that “if Mr Rushdie turned up at his doorstep looking for help, ‘I might ring somebody who might do more damage to him than he would like. I’d try to phone the Ayatollah Khomeini and tell him exactly where this man is’.”

In a subsequent interview with The New York Times, Mr Whitney added, Stevens/Islam, who had seen a preview of the programme, said that he “stood by his comments”.

Let’s have no more rubbish about how “green” and innocent this man was.

Salman Rushdie, New York

All of this is far from “sanity” to Morrissey:

What I find amazing about this is that two stars from Comedy Central would share the stage with a man who supported the idea of murdering an artist for his remarks on Islam. The producers of South Park got death threats from radical Muslims for attempting to depict an image of Muhammed in one of their recent episodes, and the executive management of Viacom forced them to censor the show in fear of Muslim reaction. Now, two of Viacom’s most recognizable television stars have linked themselves to a man who publicly endorsed that exact kind of threat — as a way to “restore sanity.”

But I could find barely a mention of the issue on liberal sites.  Except Talking Points Memo:

Left Nearly Silent on Fatwa Endorsing Singers Sanity Rally PerformanceRankles? Yep, that’s pretty much all they had to say about it.  TPM notes the controversy and includes Islams mollifications:

Since then, he has strenuously insisted that he does not support the fatwa and never did, though he strongly criticizes Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses.

“I never called for the death of Salman Rushdie; nor backed the Fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini–and still don’t,” he wrote. “The book itself destroyed the harmony between peoples and created an unnecessary international crisis.”

Rank me as rankled.

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