One way to alienate moderate Muslims: deport Cat

Cat Stevens, the pop artist best known for his songs "Wild World" and "Morning Has Broken" in the 1960s and 70s, was detained onboard a flight from London to Washington when US transportation and immigration officials flagged his Muslim name, Yusuf Islam, on a security watch list that tracks known terrorist groups and their followers. He stands accused of associating with one or more of the banned entities on that list, and of providing funds to certain ones (Hamas allegedly among them) known to support terrorism in the Middle East.

As an American-born Muslim of Pakistani heritage and a strong supporter of the Bush administration's essential thesis that it is better to go after the terrorists wherever they hide than to let them migrate to our shores and attack us, I am outraged by the actions of our government in detaining and deporting Mr. Islam. I do not and have never condoned the terrorist activities of Hamas in Israel or anywhere else, nor have I ever supported such groups with a penny of my money.

But Mr. Islam's expulsion from the US shows how ill-equipped the Bush administration still is - three years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 - to ferret out the real terrorists from the quirkier followers of a religion that is increasingly the target of Islamophobes. For Muslims like me who have worked tirelessly to bring moderate voices forward as our religion is seized by extremists from within and put under siege by Islam's detractors from without, the Yusuf Islam episode is mostly counterproductive because it not only increases the rage in rational segments of Muslim society, it violates the fundamental principles by which America holds itself out as a beacon of freedom and liberty to the rest of the world. We have to be better if we are to hold others accountable for their misdeeds.

Either Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge should make the evidence against Mr. Islam public and detail it sufficiently that all can see his sins in an objective light, or they should issue an official apology to the peace activist and explain how American laws got hijacked in such a cavalier manner. The Patriot Act's provisions, it seems, have run amok.

Few of Islam's adherents have done as much to portray the religion positively as tolerant and dedicated to education and humanitarian causes as Mr. Islam. He founded Islamia Primary School in London in 1983, and in 1998 made it the first Islamic school qualified to receive British government support on the same basis as other sectarian schools, including Christian ones. His friends in British political life are a Who's Who of the British establishment, including Prime Minister Tony Blair and Prince Charles. He has raised money for charitable groups in Europe and in the US. Those charities have provided solace to the families and orphans of wars from Kosovo to Bosnia to Iraq. His practice of Islam's basic tenets is above reproach, and in fact sets a model for those who are born into the faith.

He has also spoken out repeatedly against terrorism since Sept. 11. Soon after terrorists attacked New York and Washington, Mr. Islam wrote "No right-thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action. The Koran equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of the whole of humanity." Words of an Islamist fanatic, or genuine sympathy for innocent life taken by those who have hijacked his, and my, religion? He expressed similar sentiments when the children of Beslan were slaughtered, and has been engaged since the horror two weeks ago in bringing relief to those families as well.

Oh, and he also so happened to re-record his 1970s hit, "Peace Train," last year to protest the Iraq war. Which is why Thursday's events reek of political retribution of the very worst kind.

Actions by US authorities in Bangor, Maine, where the United Airlines flight was diverted Tuesday, demonstrate the failure of American domestic and security policy, both tactically and strategically, to discern who the bad guys really are.

I have argued vigorously before on these pages and in other international media that our responsibility to stand up as citizens in a time of war and crisis takes precedence over enjoying the civil rights afforded us by the sacrifices of those who have given their lives so we can live free. But when the type of global citizenship displayed by Mr. Islam, which goes to the very heart of what humanity is about, is struck down by artificial and arbitrary implementation of US antiterrorism statutes, it's time to reexamine those laws, and to reexamine the license to practice of those who are charged with protecting our civil liberties.

Yusuf Islam is a beacon of light and hope in a sea of fear, chaos, and uncertainty that was extinguished this week out of fear and paranoia that seemingly have no end. If Mr. Ashcroft is willing to take Yusuf Islam off that plane, then next time he'd better be willing to take me off as well.

It is time to take back America's civil rights from those who would abuse it for their own narrow political agendas.

Mansoor Ijaz jointly authored the cease-fire plan in Kashmir in 2000 and, as a private US citizen, negotiated Sudan's offer of counterterrorism assistance to the Clinton administration in 1997. He is chairman of Crescent Investment Management in New York.

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