* Regarding “Arrest of Cat Stevens breaks trust with moderates” (NCR, Oct. 8): A high-ranking U.S. official once asked me, “What is the single most detrimental scenario we must avoid at all costs, if we are ever to convince the world that our fight is against terrorism and not Islam?”
I quickly answered, “Forgoing bin Laden the terrorist, while nabbing Yusuf Islam the peace activist.”
Well, actually, this conversation never took place. But how I wish it had.
For here we are indeed: The worst-case scenario is playing out before our eyes! Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri remain free, while we focus our resources on stifling the reconciliatory voices of highly revered Muslim peace activists like Tariq Ramadan and Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens).
Whether or not we mean to do so, the message we are sending out to the world is shamelessly clear: Peaceful Muslims are not immune to our retaliation and wrath.
I remind myself of a quick lesson from the 19th century. French colonel Alfred Dreyfus stood humiliated and dejected throughout his court martial in Paris, 1898. Yet after the dust had cleared, the ordeal went down forever as a shameful episode of French history. Dreyfus had been accused of treason, but just as with Yusuf Islam and Tariq Ramadan, no sufficient evidence was ever put forth to support the accusations. Just as with them, his only crime was belonging to the wrong religion at the wrong time (in Dreyfus’ case, Judaism).
If not remedied, the Yusuf Islam episode will also be remembered as nothing more than a shameful episode of U.S. history.
[Ahmed Rehab is communications director for the Council on American Islamic Relations in Chicago.]
copyright © 2004, National Catholic Reporter