When he was yanked off a Washington-bound plane and sent home, the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens says he became the victim of an “unjust and arbitrary system” that is diminishing the United States’ reputation as a defender of freedom.
In an opinion piece published in Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times, Yusuf Islam said he and his 21-year-old daughter were on their way to Nashville last week to look into a music project when their flight from London was diverted to Bangor, Maine.
The captain told passengers “heavy traffic” was to blame, Islam said, but as soon as the plane touched the ground, a half-dozen uniformed men approached, asked his name and told him to come with them. He had turned up on a list of people suspected of having terrorist links.
“I was devastated,” Islam wrote. “The unbelievable thing is that only two months earlier, I had been having meetings in Washington with top officials from the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to talk about my charity work.
‘Unjust and arbitrary system’
“Had I changed that much? No. Actually, it’s the indiscriminate procedure of profiling that’s changed,” Islam wrote. “I am a victim of an unjust and arbitrary system, hastily imposed, that serves only to belittle America’s image as a defender of the civil liberties that so many dearly struggled and died for over the centuries.”
Since he converted to Islam in 1977, he said, there have been repeated efforts to link him to violent causes and groups.
“I denounce all forms of terrorism and injustice; it is simply outrageous for anyone to suggest otherwise,” he said, noting he has spoken out against the Sept. 11 attacks and the taking of hostages in Iraq.
‘20/20’ interview Friday
He has largely shunned music in recent years, although he did record a new version of his 1971 hit “Peace Train” last year for the album “Hope,” which raised money for Iraqi children. Others participating in the project were Paul McCartney, David Bowie and Avril Lavigne.
Islam told ABC in an interview to be broadcast Friday on “20/20” that he has been a frequent U.S. visitor in recent years.
He said in his opinion piece that he was trying to keep this visit low-profile “because of the speculation it might have raised in the music world about a return of ‘the Cat.”’
“Media attention was the last thing I wanted,” he said. “But it seems God wanted otherwise.”