Legendary British singer-songwriter Cat Stevens / Yusuf will be performing in South Africa later this year, but there has been condemnation of his tour because of his reported intolerance and homophobia.
The then-named Stevens made his debut in the late sixties and went on to top the charts in the US and UK, selling millions of records and receiving critical acclaim.
In 1977, Stevens converted to Islam and changed his name to Yusuf Islam and soon after ended his musical career to focus on philanthropic causes in the Muslim community.
In 2006, he returned to recording and performing music. Today, the Roll Hall of Fame inductee goes by the stage name of Yusuf, although his “Peace Train Tour” is being promoted under the names “Yusuf / Cat Stevens”.
He will be performing for the first time in South Africa in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban in November, and a number of the dates are already sold out.
While Yusuf is widely known for his songs and humanitarian work, he has also been the subject of controversy. In 1989, he was slammed for saying he backed Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa calling for the death of author Salman Rushdie for blasphemy.
He also appeared on BBC saying that “yes” Rushdie deserved to die. He further commented that he wouldn’t attend a rally in which an effigy of Rushdie was burned because he rather wanted it to be “the real thing” that was set alight (see below).
Yusuf, however, later denied that he supported Rushdie being killed for his writing and claimed that what he said was taken “out of context”.
He told CBS in 2006: “I certainly never supported the fatwa, but when I was asked about … the actual principle of blasphemy and capital punishment, well, like the Bible, I said, ‘You know, yeah, it’s there, it’s in the Koran.’ And I couldn’t deny that.”
Yusuf has also been accused of homophobia. In 2000, he slammed the repeal of the UK’s Section 28 law, which banned children being taught or informed about same-sex relationships and same-sex families in schools.
At a press conference at the House of Lords at the time, Yusuf said that the law’s repeal was “part of the deterioration of the moral statutes that we are witnessing day by day” and warned that it was a threat to “great moral principles”.
According to LGBT activist Peter Tatchell, Yusuf also stated that those who supported educating children about sexual diversity wanted to “feast off the innocence of our children for their own abominable sexual appetites”.
Yusuf appears to have since been very quiet on the subject of homosexuality and has not actively campaigned or spoken out against the LGBT community.
“His Cape Town concerts are being sponsored by Cape Talk, Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden is providing him with a venue, and Webtickets is selling tickets for his shows. None of them appear to have a problem with the bigotry and hate speech of Stevens [Yusuf],” he wrote.
Bownes compared the situation to the outrage that followed news last year that American “kill the gays” pastor Steven Anderson was coming to South Africa. A campaign led to restaurants and hotels refusing to serve him and the government ultimately banning him from entering the country as an undesirable person.
“So what is the difference between Stevens and Anderson?” asked Bownes. “Nothing, I would argue, apart from the fact that Stevens has written some pretty good songs in his past life.
“We need to be consistent in our treatment of those who want to spread hatred of people based on their skin colour, sexuality, gender, class, religious beliefs, or anything else.”
He further argued that pressure needs to be put on “Cape Talk, Kirstenbosh Botanical Gardens and Webtickets to do the right thing and pull their support for this, and other, bigots”.
Do you agree? Is Yusuf / Cat Stevens in the same league as Pastor Anderson? Should his tour be boycotted?