Any doubt that the Department of Homeland Security is a joke should be put to rest by its recent detainment and deportation of the pop singer Cat Stevens, who now calls himself Yusuf Islam.
The entertainer has mysteriously made it to one of the watch lists that the government so famously failed to consult prior to the attack of Sept. 11, 2001. Nevertheless, he was allowed to board a plane with his daughter in London for a trip to Washington, D.C.
When our sterling bureaucratic protectors discovered the singer's presence about mid-Atlantic, they diverted the airplane and all of its passengers and crew, of course, to Bangor, Maine, where one of the world's most famous peace advocates was taken away by the FBI and interrogated for about six hours. He was separated from his daughter and naturally never told why he was on a watch list. Then he was put on another plane back to England, where he is a citizen.
This shabby treatment of a man known around the world not only for his music but for his charitable endeavors, advocacy of peace and forthright denunciations of terrorism is stupid and an embarrassment for the United States. Even the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, protested.
How stupid? Well, within the recent past, Yusuf Islam has made two trips to the United States to meet with high-ranking government officials, including officials from the Bush White House concerning charitable projects. After the attacks against the United States, the singer not only condemned them, but forked up a good amount of money for the survivors. And at about the same time that our bureaucratic protectors were focusing on an innocent man, a report comes out that guns and explosives are still easily being smuggled past the U.S. security people at airports. Maybe their priorities are messed up.
More importantly to Americans, this incident shows you the danger of government lists. To this day, the singer does not know why he was put on the list, and the only thing the U.S. bureaucrats will say is, "Yusuf Islam has been placed on the watch lists because of activities that could potentially be related to terrorism."
Now, let's decode this bureaucratese. What activities? If you are going to publicly embarrass a person, you should say frankly what activities you are talking about. And who says he's engaged in them? And what in the heck does it mean that they could "potentially be related to terrorism"? Notice they do not say these mysterious activities are related to terrorism. They say they "could potentially be" related. Our government so loves guilt by association that these activities could be nothing more than donating to a legal charity that uses a bank somebody thinks is owned by a terrorist organization. That's guilt by association twice removed.
I make charitable donations, small ones, and I have no idea which banks the Boy Scouts and the Salvation Army use, much less who owns the banks. I kid you not that in this present state of hysteria and semi-police-state tactics administered by morons, good people's reputations have been smeared by just such a ridiculous claim.
The government should not be allowed to put anybody's name on a terrorist watch list without notifying that person, presenting its evidence before a judicial officer and giving the person a chance to rebut it. As it is now, anybody can end up being called a terrorist and never know why. As Sen. Ted Kennedy has pointed out, he's been stopped numerous times for additional searches because apparently some name is similar to his on one of these dumb watch lists.
Computerized lists can be dangerous. In my city, an innocent businessman, asleep in his car, was shot to death by a police officer because the man's car had been mistakenly listed as stolen.
What this administration has done is revive McCarthyism, something that has no place in a free society. As for Yusuf Islam, I'm sorry, from a personally selfish point of view, that he converted to Islam. I greatly miss Cat Stevens' music.
October 4, 2004
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.
© 2004 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.