Monday, February 12, 2007

Peace Train by Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens)

It’s funny how memories of growing up can suddenly sweep back into view with all the richness of the emotion of those moments lived, for some of us, long ago. Seeing the video by Lucas Gray about Iran scored to Peace Train by Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) my memory of long-forgotten teenage days was rekindled. Partly because my closest friend from the age of 17 until I was well-into my twenties was a Persian student, Majid, who became a refugee after the revolution in Iran and who continues to live and work in Montreal to this day. And the other memory rekindled was my almost-complete collection of Cat Stevens records. His music was one of a set of things (which also included the Rocky Horror Picture Show, lentils and Harold & Maude) that ushered me from the suburban hinterland in which I had been raised into the urban (inner-city, really) world in which I have lived ever since. So it was with dismay that I learned (now long ago as well) of his conversion to Islam (ironically not a couple of years after I had discovered his music). Despite having muslim friends, I can see now that I was suspicious and even a bit resentful of this conversion. And while I am somewhat critical-minded about all religious conversion experiences I can see from this vantage of three-decades distance that my feelings about Cat Stevens’ conversion were certainly fuelled by both ignorance and fear of Islam. So, when the headlines that alleged Cat Stevens’ support of the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, I was, sadly, inclined to grant them credence without the scepticism I usually apply to all media coverage. I was not inclined to look more closely at what the truth of the matter might be. I allowed my suspicions that Cat Stevens had become a fundamentalist, doctrinaire muslim to be confirmed. I can see now that this passive acceptance of this media-sense and “common-sense” opinion was, in part, due to my own suspicions (which are most accurately called racist) of islam.

I still don’t know the whole truth of the matter and this wikipedia info at least suggests that further research and reflection is necessary. I can see now that I was practicing a common strategy of oppression, commonly called the double-standard (though triple, quadruple and so on is probably more accurate). And, like many people, I tolerate contradictions in people and institutions I otherwise approve of while expecting people and institutions of which I am suspicious or fearful to prove themselves contradiction-free. Just one of the many tactics of racism/white-supremacy, sexism/patriarchy, classism and so on.

So learning of Lucas Gray’s piece about Iran, and quite moved by it (see previous post), I checked out YouTube to see what might be there and found this rendition of Peace Train that brought tears (both sad and bitter) to my eyes and that has caused me to regret cutting out of my life some music that I once loved dearly. Fear and ignorance, especially of the racist variety, are insidious things that seep into all our lives.

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