The case for Cat Stevens

Dear Hannah,

My original response to Cat Stevens becoming a Muslim and changing his name to Yusuf Islam was calling him a traitor.  My opinion, as with anyone else who leaves England and joins Islam, is that he's still a traitor.  But what kind of traitor is he? 

The invariable impression you get when listening to Tea for the Tillerman and any number of hits on it, such as Wild World and Hard Headed Woman, isn't only that Cat Stevens was a gifted musician, but that he was a good and substantial person.  Too good, in fact, to remain too long in the music industry of the 1970's.  Any knowledge of the music industry of the era, with its rampant drug use and obvious exploitation of artists and the ritual violations of underage groupies, combined with outright occultism and an ugly left-wing radicalism, would be enough to drive anybody with a soul away -- assuming he wasn't there for the purpose of evangelism.

How long was he supposed to sing Where do the children play? until he realized he had to leave?  And where was he supposed to go?  And further than this, how long could anyone associate the sights and sounds of degenerates with Western Civilization before deciding we were rotten?  The world of musicians, like Hollywood or any other industry, has never been capable of supporting itself.  It relies upon oceans of almost faceless customers -- worshipers, almost; an epicurean cult, riotous, idolotrous, pressing against each other in ugly venues and concrete amphitheaters to get their vibe, their mentality, a sense of meaning and purpose and pleasure in the people nobody should ever idolize, and from lyrics too gross to sing to children.     

It's difficult to say, because so many of Cat Stevens's hits have an almost secular holiness about them, that Cat was a man with a message.  I believe in a man like Cat's case that having too many good messages means he is the message.  The problem with men like Cat (if it can be called a problem) is that they eventually realize they aren't enough.  Too fragile to live for a century, too finite to change the world, and too humble to admit they're the meaning, the sensitive artist-prophet needs something much bigger than himself in order to live.  

We only regret that Christians, diverse as the sects are, weren't enough when Cat realized he needed a conversion.  Christianity, or at least the two forms of it his parents practiced, hadn't been enough to save them from divorce; and it hadn't been able to fight off the radicalism and depravity of the 60's or even the dead quasi-Pharisaical moralism of the 50's.  The Holy Spirit had failed Western Civilization by that point.  From someone like Cat's perspective, an angel in the sewers, He was either delinquent or nonexistent.

And what about Judaism?  It gives its followers a universal narrative and an alternative to Christianity, but it was never good at attracting followers.  The rules are too much for most of us and Jews are probably the most unpopular worldwide sect -- at least partially because they call everybody else unclean.  And what about Buddhism?  Great for calming your nerves, but terrible at giving you that zest.   The only real alternative to Christianity, other than joining the walking-dead atheists or the uncomfortable agnostics, is Islam -- at moment the fastest growing religion in the world, and the only one being taken seriously as a legal system.

That Mohammed and his truest followers are sex-slavers and wife-beaters, and Islamic countries are run by brutal tyrants and bullies should shame a man who left the West because it was dirty.  But Islam isn't all slavery and terrorism.  It is also the hope that mankind can be pure if we want to be.  It gives men a chance to clean themselves up (or something like it, anyway), and a handbook for how to do it exactly.  Christianity is vague and complex and because it's vague and complex it's oftentimes confusing -- like life.  Christian theology also makes it unintelligible to many, including Augustine, who said that denying the Trinity means losing your soul, but attempting to understand the Trinity means losing your mind.

Islam seems to be better for simpletons and people who just want to play by the rules.  So far as I'm aware it also allows you to have an enemy.  And Cat Stevens, after years experiencing the worst of Western Civilization, not only realized that mankind needs rules, but that mankind has an enemy.  An enlightened and thoughtful atheist, perhaps unused to seeing us at our worst, might say that our enemy was laziness and vice and a lack of reason.  To Cat Stevens, in the thick of a catastrophic and almost sudden moral collapse, countered only by an increasingly senile fundamentalism on the right and the saccharine and smarmy stupidity of The Jesus Movement on the left, the enemy very much appeared to be Satan.

We can't really excuse Cat Stevens for picking the only religion it's popular to defend by saying that criticism breeds more terrorists.  No other creed or religion is offered the same defense because everyone knows that the defense is incriminating.  But I believe that by asking ourselves why Cat Stevens threw us all under the bus we're asking the wrong question.   We should be asking why such a soulful, thoughtful, and talented man ever felt we had less to offer him than something as backward as Islam.  And I think the reason we haven't asked is because it leads to something more uncomfortable than a great man becoming a traitor.  It leads us to look in the mirror.


P.S.: A short while ago, a Pakistani woman known on Youtube for twerking and other classless acts was murdered in what the Muslims commonly condone as an honor killing.  But even more disturbing than this; even more disturbing than anyone putting his hands around his sister's neck and squeezing until her lifeless body crumpled on the floor, is that a dangerously large number of Westerners are mourning her because the only solution to Islamic fundamentalism they can think of is another goddamned Kardashian.  It's true that the Islamic fundamentalist will kill your body.  But the liberal Westerner thinks freedom means killing your soul.  It's not enough that he's allowed to be disgusting.  In the long run his "liberty" requires you to not even be disgusted.

*Despite the creation of the Jewish state, it's worth noting that no country in the world is either interested in or capable of enforcing Mosaic Law.  A recent speech by Benjamin Netanyahu to our Senate proved this, when he reminded us that unlike his Sharia-compliant neighbors, the Israeli state won't kill gays.

If this is humane it's inconsistent.  The Law upon which his identity is based is hostile to non-believers, illiberal in the extreme, murderous towards heretics and gays and slaves and Sabbath-breakers, and wholeheartedly interested in the supremacy not only of Jews over non-Jews, but of the Jewish nation-state over other nations.