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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Death For Free Speech Is A Deal Breaker

Jon Stewart was interviewed by Stephen Colbert Friday night at a benefit for a film festival in Montclair, New Jersey. I haven't seen any video of the event, but there's a summary online at Third Beat Magazine, which reports some of the topics the Comedy Central duo discussed -- the problems Stewart had in taking over "The Daily Show" from Craig Ferguson and clashing with the staff right away, why Stewart considers Hugh Grant his worst guest ever, and how Colbert nearly choked his wife to death while sleep-walking early in his marriage.

Stewart also revealed some fallout from their 2010 Rally To Restore Sanity. It revolved around Yusuf Islam who, while still known as Cat Stevens, publicly supported an Islamic fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie for writing "The Satanic Verses." I remember that 1989 incident clearly, because at the time, I immediately banned all Cat Stevens songs from the morning radio show I was doing on WCXR/Washington (a story that got picked up and covered by "Entertainment Tonight").

Stewart told the Montclair audience that after they had Yusuf perform at the Rally (singing his "Peace Train" vs. Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" and the O'Jays "Love Train"), Rushdie called Stewart to complain.  According to Third Beat:
Stewart said that he didn't know about Yusuf's comments at the time. "So I’m like, I'm sure he doesn't believe that people should be put to death for apostasy,” Stewart recalled. "I said, 'look, I'm sorry you’re upset, but I'm sure the guy isn't really like that. Let me talk to him.” 
Stewart called Yusuf, who characterized backing the fatwa as a "misunderstanding," but immediately tempered that with "although why do you have to insult the Prophet?"
"We get into a whole conversation, and it becomes very clear to me that he is straddling two worlds in a very difficult way. And that he actually still – and it broke my heart a little bit. I wish I had known that. I wouldn't have done [the bit], I don’t think. If I had known that, I wouldn't have done it. Because that to me is a deal breaker. Death for free speech is a deal breaker," Stewart said. 
Colbert added that at the time, Yusuf was scheduled to be a guest on upcoming episodes of both the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Those appearances didn't happen.
I wonder if anyone on Craig Kilborn's "Daily Show" staff knew about Yusuf's 1989 comments.