Hobsbawm deported

by Chris Bertram on September 24, 2004

In shock news veteran Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm has been deported from the United States. After the historian’s name appeared on a no-fly list, his UA flight was diverted 600 miles to Maine, the elderly scholar was removed and, after questioning by FBI agents he was placed on the first available flight to the UK. Homeland Security officials said “we’ve been watching this guy for a while, we had new intelligence….”

Hobsbawm has long been a controversial figure, in “a notorious interview with Michael Ignatieff he appeared to justify the Soviet Gulag”:http://web.pitas.com/alinas/04_08_2003.html :

bq. Ignatieff: “In 1934, millions of people are dying in the Soviet experiment. If you had known that, would it have made a difference to you at that time? To your commitment? To being a Communist?”

bq. Hobsbawm: “This is the sort of academic question to which an answer is simply not possible. . . . If I were to give you a retrospective answer which is not the answer of a historian, I would have said, ‘probably not.’”

bq. Ignatieff: “Why?”

bq. Hobsbawm: “Because in a period in which, as you might imagine, mass murder and mass suffering are absolutely universal, the chance of a new world being born in great suffering would still have been worth backing. Now the point is, looking back as an historian, I would say that the sacrifices made by the Russian people were probably only marginally worthwhile. The sacrifices were enormous; they were excessive by almost any standard and excessively great. But I’m looking back at it now, and I’m saying that because it turns out that the Soviet Union was not the beginning of the world revolution. Had it been, I’m not sure.”

bq. Ignatieff: “What that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?”

bq. Hobsbawm: “Yes.”

Seeking to justify Hobsbawm’s deportation on the grounds that he was a threat to the security of the United States, “guys-with-websites”:http://www.xoverboard.com/cartoons/2004_09_13.html all across the internet cited Hobsbawm’s remarks by way of justification. Prominent US liberal bloggers, such as “Juan Cole”:http://www.juancole.com/2004_09_01_juancole_archive.html#109592379002363404 , “Mark Kleiman”:http://www.markarkleiman.com/archives/terrorism_and_its_control_/2004/09/cat_stevens_john_ashcroft_and_salman_rushdie.php and “Kevin Drum”:http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2004_09/004759.php also mentioned the repulsive remarks and said that in their view, the fact that Hobsbawm had made the remarks had left them indifferent in the face of Homeland Security’s actions. As one of them said: “If you excuse the execution of dissidents, you and John Ashcroft deserve one another.” “Screw him,” was another’s comment on the affair.



bad Jim 09.24.04 at 9:52 am

Cat Stevens, in an album I once taped, sang:

Don’t you feel the day is coming
and it won’t be too soon
when the people of the world
can all live in one room

The generous impulse behind this is reasonably obvious, but it’s my impression that Mao expressed something vaguely similar around the time of the Great Leap Forward, which was roughly as benificent as the Holocaust.

I doubt the singer had that in mind when he wrote it, but I can’t forget that when I remember it.


mona 09.24.04 at 10:07 am

It’s becoming a habit, this deportation and flight-diversion thing! Interesting timing.

Interesting also to hear people justify the concept that opinions alone, no matter how repulsive, are enough to deport someone. Even more interesting, when that deportation-triggering opinion is one that justifies deporting and killing people on the base of opinions. The coherence!

But what I love most about this story is that it’s about the Soviet Union in the 30’s. How far does the concept of “threat” go back in time? When do they start deporting people who said the Mayflower should have sunk?

And all the nutters and neonazis and genocide apologists and extremist groups, active or inactive, that are within the US, why are they not a threat, just because they’re not foreigners?

Oh I give up trying to see some logic in all this. I just want to know if the other passengers get compensated for the trouble.


Nosemonkey 09.24.04 at 10:35 am

Christ on a bike – the guy’s 87 years old, and his views have been well-known for decades.

I went to a lecture he gave at Birkbeck College in London a couple of years back and he was looking pretty frail then – the amount of stress this would put on the old guy could kill him. What the hell kind of a threat do they think he poses?


mona 09.24.04 at 10:38 am

… doh, sorry for not getting it earlier, but my comments still stand.


Nick Simmonds 09.24.04 at 10:40 am

Er, while I appreciate the joke, I would find it difficult to get worked up over this, myself.

No, they shouldn’t have deported Cat Stevens. No, Cat Stevens shouldn’t have suggested that it’s okay to kill novelists. No, neither one excuses the other. That said, there are other things that I care to spend my thought energy on being worked up over. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but they do make me care less about either wrong.

Relatedly, this is why I find it extremely difficult to pick a side in the Israel-PLO issue, unless I’m allowed to pick “innocent, non-assinine people in both groups”.


Brett Bellmore 09.24.04 at 10:47 am

It was satire, Mona. You probably missed that because it wasn’t very good satire. After all, Cat Stevens didn’t just hold nasty opinions, he backed them up by donating money to terrorists. And Stevens, after all, is a British citizen.


Abiola Lapite 09.24.04 at 10:50 am

Hash: SHA1

Did Eric Hobsbawm ever give thousands of dollars of his own money to Hamas? Did he ever give money to “charities” to funnel to Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman? Have several intelligence agencies indicated seeing him associating with known “freedom fighters” within just the last few months?

This is one case of sarcasm that completely misses the point. Cat Stevens is no Tariq Ramadan, and his ass deserved to get deported. The only thing at all annoying about this story is that so many other people should have been inconvenienced in the process.

Version: GnuPG v1.2.4 (MingW32) – GPGshell v3.10
Comment: My Public Key is at the following URL:
Comment: http://www.alapite.net/pgp/AbiolaLapite.txt



mona 09.24.04 at 10:53 am

nosemonkey: I’m glad I’m not the only one who was fooled :)

Unless CT has special exclusive sources, Eric Hobsbawn has not been deported, but it sounded entirely plausible (at least to you and me! I think anything is possible these days…). Anyway. It is a rather clever way of making a point about those reactions to the Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens story.

Apologies to Chris… and well done.


Lee Bryant 09.24.04 at 10:55 am

Thank you for this. I was disturbed by the fact that comments on the original CT post about Yusuf Islam’s deportation was far more cautious and circumspect than random people commenting on the BBC web site, so this is a welcome follow-up.

The fact that so many people somehow can’t quite grasp the fact that Yusuf Islam is a respected man of peace who has made a real contribution to Muslim schools and other constructive issues in the UK makes me wonder how far our values have shifted recently.

I am sick of hearing about the Rushdie affair. Get over it: the values of Western liberal intellectuals are not (dare I say it?…) universal. Anyway, his views on this have softened over time.


mona 09.24.04 at 11:14 am

“You probably missed that because it wasn’t very good satire. ”

Brett Ballmore, usually it’s good satire that is missed, because it sounds real. Especially in times where satire is made difficult by the fact reality itself is already defying belief.

I don’t know and you don’t know and no one knows what were the real reasons for deporting Cat Stevens in mid-flight – after he’d already been to the US as recently as last May.

I don’t know how I could trust a security department that does that kind of thing, and only a few weeks before elections, how pathetically transparent. It’s not likely to make up for the fact the 9/11 terrorists were free to operate within the US for years, and their financial backers got away with insider dealings. In the immortal words of Shania Twain, it don’t impress me much.

If it was about his opinions on Rushdie, aside from what exactly those opinions were and whether they alone qualify as “security threat”, they’d been expressed prior to May 2004, so why wasn’t he deported then? If it was about donating to Hamas, _if it’s true_ that he is donating money to terrorist organisations (I don’t know that, you don’t know that, no one know that either), then why has Jack Straw complained to Colin Powell about the deportation, and why haven’t the British intelligence and authorities brought a case against him for being a terrorist sponsor, huh? Are we supposed to believe the US security agencies know something the British ones don’t? I bet Jack Straw is pissed off!

“And Stevens, after all, is a _British_ citizen.”

Yeah. Meaning? That he doesn’t enjoy the free speech protections that a Jerry Fallwell enjoys as an _American_, as someone remarked on the comments in Drum’s blog, so it’s all ok? Or meaning that the UK would never do something so absurd as diverting planes to deport people only 5 months after they’d been let in?

Nevermind the crimes of opinion and unproven allegations aspect. How does a government get away with such ridiculous undermining of the reliability of their own intelligence services? How can people think it’s a good thing? A rhetorical question, I know.


Scott Martens 09.24.04 at 11:17 am

That some people were fooled – for a moment I was – says something about our times.

Once upon a time – many years ago it seems – Americans fought an enemy they viewed as ideologically dangerous. But, most Americans felt confident that the enemy’s ideology had little traction in America. Consequently, most of them thought that their general beliefs human freedom meant that they couldn’t forbid people from entering or speaking in America unless they were also very likely to materially undermine America through the commission of explicitly criminal acts.

Alas, it no longer seems that way. Does anyone seriously think that Cat Stevens is likely to become a suicide bomber if allowed to step on US soil? That he courriers information, materials or money to terrorists in the US? In short, is there anyone who actually thinks the guy really poses a threat to national security, or just that he either has held or currently holds opinions that aren’t very popular in some quarters?

It used to take a lot more to be declared a threat to national security. Now, entry control to the US seems pretty much random. US policy has always been arbitrary towards poor foreigners, but it used to be reasonably fair to rich ones. I guess at least it’s a bit more egalitarian now.


rea 09.24.04 at 11:27 am

“Did Eric Hobsbawm ever give thousands of dollars of his own money to Hamas? Did he ever give money to ‘charities’ to funnel to Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman?”

Did Stevens do these things either? He’s repeatedly denied it, and no one has ever deigned to offer proof to the contrary


mona 09.24.04 at 11:48 am

Apparently the lack of proof that he did _not_ is enough for some people. Even in the absence of any formal charges or judicial proceedings. Speculation and rumours are enough. Guilty until proven innocent, and no need for charges. It’s a perfect method, when you don’t even have to explain because you can just say ‘security reasons’.

Again, interesting implications for the UK government. I guess the US administration views British intelligence as reliable only when it can be cited in making the case for war. Oh the irony. I can’t imagine all the games going on there.


Brett Bellmore 09.24.04 at 11:51 am

“The only thing at all annoying about this story is that so many other people should have been inconvenienced in the process.”

I’ve certainly got to agree with that; Typical government agency at work. Should have just met him at the gate, and escorted him to a return flight. I suppose they did it that way to deliberately inconvenience all those people, as a way of sending a message to the British to be more selective about who they put on US bound flights, but I’ve always thought, “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.”

Mona, the reason I said it wasn’t good satire, is that the posited situation wasn’t sufficiently similar to the Cat Stevens case, varing on a number of highly relevant aspects. Now, if somebody coughs up evidence that Eric Hobsbawm is donating money to some Marxist terrorist group, I’d be all in favor of deporting him, assuming prosecution wasn’t feasible.

Does being a British citizen mean Stevens doesn’t have rights? No, of course not. It means he doesn’t have any right to be in the US.

Oh, and if he doesn’t think he has supported terrorism, I can only conclude that he doesn’t grasp the concept of money being fungible. That, or has a rather restrictive definition of “terrorist”.


Abiola Lapite 09.24.04 at 11:54 am

Hash: SHA1

“That he courriers information, materials or money to terrorists in the US?”

How do you know he wouldn’t? If he’s done it once, why not again?

Frankly, these attempts to defend the man are utterly ridiculous. I protested Tariq Ramdan’s visa revocation, but not every Muslim who’s barred from the United States is automatically innocent, and just because a man’s a former pop star doesn’t necessarily make him a saint.

Version: GnuPG v1.2.4 (MingW32) – GPGshell v3.10
Comment: My Public Key is at the following URL:
Comment: http://www.alapite.net/pgp/AbiolaLapite.txt



Chris Bertram 09.24.04 at 12:10 pm

If Cat Stevens has funded terrorism that would certainly change things. But I’ve not seen any evidence that this is so. Rather I’ve seen assertions by guys-with-websites, Daniel Pipes, Michelle Malkin etc. These allegations all seem to be of the form “Cat gave money to organisation X” where it is then further alleged that, according to dodgy security expert P or right-wing-commentator Q or whoever, that X is a front for Hamas. Sure sets off my spin-and-bullshit detectors! Maybe Brett, Abiola et al can come up with some credible source for the allegation?


Flann 09.24.04 at 12:21 pm

I am sick of hearing about the Rushdie affair. Get over it: the values of Western liberal intellectuals are not (dare I say it?…) universal.

Not being privy to the information behind the banning of Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam, I am left to speculate, and bureaucratic incompetence (as we have seen in the past) is certainly a possibility. Not at all open to speculation are the sentiments expressed above. Every time I feel accusations of cultural relativism are wildly misdirected against our side, some — “dare I say it?” — idiot proves me wrong. I guess I’ll just have to, uh, “get over it”?


Abiola Lapite 09.24.04 at 12:23 pm

Hash: SHA1

I only have the Israeli government to go on, but hey, I guess that doesn’t count as a “credible source” in some circles (never mind that the same government doesn’t have a blanket ban on Muslim visitors, even extremists, otherwise Farrakhan would never have been allowed into the country) …
Version: GnuPG v1.2.4 (MingW32) – GPGshell v3.10
Comment: My Public Key is at the following URL:
Comment: http://www.alapite.net/pgp/AbiolaLapite.txt



Eric the Unread 09.24.04 at 12:27 pm

Did Eric Hobsbawm give money to Hamas?


Brett Bellmore 09.24.04 at 12:36 pm

Do I have an audit of his donations in front of me? No. I do have the fact that both US and Israeli security agree that he has donated to terrorist organizations, and his own admission that he has donated to unspecified Palestinian charities, of which darn few are NOT terrorist fronts.

If it was a case of prosecuting a US citizen, rather than refusing a British citizen entry to the country, I’d ask for better evidence.


reuben 09.24.04 at 1:09 pm

‘I am sick of hearing about the Rushdie affair. Get over it: the values of Western liberal intellectuals are not (dare I say it?…) universal.’

In this particular instance, it’s too bad they aren’t.

And is it really only ‘Western liberal intellectuals’ who believe that authors shouldn’t be killed for what they write?


harry 09.24.04 at 1:33 pm

With all due respect I think you are all missing the really scary point. I’ve spent a good deal of time in UK and US airports since Spet 11th, and one thing is absolutely clear — if you compare the security you encounter as a passenger, the US people clearly hav no idea what they are supposed to be doing. The UK people give the impression that they do – -so at least they have an idea of how to give the impression that they do. Of course, I oppose the Yusuf Ilam deportation on all sorts of grounds — he is clearly, whatever his past, a liberalising and important influence on British Islam; he is also clearly a decent person, if one who has, in the past, endored repellant views. But then I’ve never heard of Mrs Thatcher being deported for her past support of vicious and murderous dictators. BUT the sacary thing here is that it is evidence that these people do not know what they are doing. Congress has thrown money at security, but has not made reasonable efforts to ensure that it is being spent efficiently. Islam’s deportation makes me feel less safe; and it should make everyone else feel the same way. Except, perhaps, him.


Mason 09.24.04 at 1:42 pm

So, Abiola, your legalistic starter for ten:

If a person gave money to Hamas in 1988 (that’s a conditional clause, I’m not conceding that Cat Stevens did anything of the kind) did they in doing so fund an organisation that the Israeli government had then banned as “terrorist”?


harry 09.24.04 at 1:42 pm

Abiola – no, the Israeli government is not reliable on these things. And it would be a bit rich for them to compain about someone supporting Hamas, no? But, in fact, the report you link to does not attribute that claim to the Israeli government. It attributes to them the claim that he gave money to a ‘militant Islamic group’. If they had evidence that it was to terrorists don’t you think they’d have said that? Or maybe this is the appalling BBC twisting their words.

flann – sorry, I missed your comment because it was so short, but see that above I was echoing you, if very loudly.


Antoni Jaume 09.24.04 at 1:44 pm

Reuben, almost yes. You will find ‘Eastern liberal intellectuals’ that bear the same thinking. But in the “West” there are plenty of people who would kill people not only for what the wrote, but for what they read.



Henry 09.24.04 at 1:48 pm

Part of the point of this is that Hobsbawm _did_ have considerable difficulties in entering the US for a large part of his career. As a member of the Communist Party, he was considered _persona non grata_ for quite a long while. I don’t have my copy of his autobiography to hand, but my memory is that he was able to enter the US after the initial red scare was over – but always had to go through a fair amount of bureaucracy before getting on a plane in order to satisfy the US authorities that he was a non-subversive etc etc. Like other Marxist historians of his generation, he also found his job opportunities to be greatly curtailed by his politics – most universities simply weren’t giving positions to Marxists in the UK (or in the US – he has an account of an American colleague who was asked by Berkeley effectively to foreswear radical politics before he could be considered for a position).


Brett Bellmore 09.24.04 at 2:05 pm

“As a member of the Communist Party, he was considered persona non grata for quite a long while.”

And quite properly so. We were at war with communism, after all, until quite recently. I imagine Nazis had a hard time getting admission to the US during WWII, and for some time afterwards, too.


Antoni Jaume 09.24.04 at 2:08 pm

As a postscript to my last post, then was remembering the Index the Catholic Church has of forbidden books, but now I remember that Bush administration wanted librarians to keep them updated on who was reading what in public libraries.



abb1 09.24.04 at 2:12 pm

The most distinct feature of this current election campaign is that phony national security concerns are used as a pretext for political witchhunt.

A few minor incidents you’re discussing here are just that: minor, peripheral pieces of the big picture. IMHO.


Chris Bertram 09.24.04 at 2:17 pm

Brett, my historical memory may be faulty, but afaik, the United States and the Soviet Union enjoyed normal – if frosty – diplomatic relations until the latter’s disappearance from the scene. Between 1941 and 1945 a rather different relationship obtained between the United States and the government of Germany. Did I get that wrong?


Brett Bellmore 09.24.04 at 2:22 pm

Yes, you did get that wrong; The Cold war was in fact a war, for all that our mutual possession of nuclear weapons made direct military conflict rare. We’d have been as cautious about directly engaging the Nazis, too, if Hitler had an arsenal of ICBMs.


Abiola Lapite 09.24.04 at 2:27 pm

Hash: SHA1

“But, in fact, the report you link to does not attribute that claim to the Israeli government. It attributes to them the claim that he gave money to a ‘militant Islamic group’.”

Oh really? Did you miss the following in your rush to compose an apologia for this “clearly decent” man (as if supporters of terrorism have to look all swarthy and sinister)?

“The government claims that during that trip, he delivered tens of thousands of dollars to Hamas, a militant Islamic group.”

See the “Hamas” in there? While you’re at it, please explain why the Israelis were willing to permit him to enter the country in 1988, even though he’d been a Muslim then for 9 years, if it was simply his religion that was at issue? Please explain why Farrakhan, who is on record as calling Jews “devils”, was permitted into Israel in 1997, if it was their policy simply to bar people for their public utterances. And finally, tell me again why we ought to assume that there’s some sort of statute of limitations on funnelling money to mass murderers?

A lot of people on here are trying their damndest to live up to the worst right-wing caricatures of liberalism.

Version: GnuPG v1.2.4 (MingW32) – GPGshell v3.10
Comment: My Public Key is at the following URL:
Comment: http://www.alapite.net/pgp/AbiolaLapite.txt



Nosemonkey 09.24.04 at 2:37 pm

*checks back in*


Goes to show really – not only that I should wait for confirmation before believing things I read on the internet, but also just how mental everything’s got that this seemed so damn believable.

*wanders off back to work*


abb1 09.24.04 at 2:42 pm

the PGP-signature poster says others are caricaturing themselves…


Donald Johnson 09.24.04 at 2:44 pm

Abiola thinks there shouldn’t be a statute of limitations on funnelling money to mass murderers. Since that’s been a significant part of American foreign policy for decades, when do we start deporting American government officials?


JPed 09.24.04 at 2:53 pm

I say we start now. I have a list (pause for massive thump)…. oops, if we deport this many functionaries, who’s going to do the deporting? And will the earth tilt out of its orbit?!?!?!?


mona 09.24.04 at 2:57 pm

Brett – what kind of evidence are we talking about here? what kind of “somebody”? In a legal system, doesn’t that “somebody coughing up evidence” against someone have to be a judicial authority, on the basis of police and intelligence work?

How credible are vague allegations that are not followed up by prosecution?

Prosecution of a British citizen is not feasible in the US but it is in the UK, and there are no formal charges against this person. None. Why so? Are British intelligence and authorities worthless? Or might it be that there is simply no evidence of illegal activities?

People have “no right” to enter a country if they were doing so illegally. Not if they were *granted a visa* to enter.

Nevermind that Stevens freely entered the US only a few months ago. If there are serious and reliable security reasons for preventing someone from entering, how come he *was granted a visa* in the first place to get on that very plane, before it was diverted.

How credible is it, that they only gathered “fresh intelligence” on him… when he was already on the plane?

How well would that reflect on the seriousness of security procedures and visa approvals?

(Maybe they could also explain why they only divert planes for celebrities. But I guess this is asking too much.)

If the security reasons were serious enough to justify deportation and plane diverting, I would also be very worried that the UK does not apply its own laws on terrorism, to their own citizens, under their own legislation. Wouldn’t you?

You also write:

“Do I have an audit of his donations in front of me? No. I do have the fact that both US and Israeli security agree that he has donated to terrorist organizations”

I’m not sure it’s even that clear that that’s the motive for deportation – it was mentioned by anonymous sources, but not officially so. But let’s assume it is. Why doesn’t the British security agree on that?

They haven’t said they disagree, but they haven’t incriminated Stevens. If there is clear and reliable intelligence by the US and Israel, then the British should have had access to it first, since this person is their citizen, and therefore, they should have had grounds to prosecute him under British law long before he even applied for a US visa. They haven’t done that.

How do you explain that? We’re not talking Saudi Arabia. We’re talking Britain.

… “and his own admission that he has donated to unspecified Palestinian charities, of which darn few are NOT terrorist fronts.”

I don’t know that. There are charities that are being legally funded from within Israel too. So maybe, there must be a few who aren’t terrorist fronts.

But whatever it is, again, I wonder about the position of the British authorities on Stevens giving money to charity. They don’t seem to think it is illegal or potential terrorist activity. Are they blind? Aren’t they the main US ally? How do you square this particular circle?

If it was a case of prosecuting a US citizen, rather than refusing a British citizen entry to the country, I’d ask for better evidence.

That’s interesting. I can’t possibly understand the thought process behind it, so I’ll pass.

Still doesn’t explain how you don’t ask for ‘better evidence’ from the British government. It’s not like it’s on another planet.


Steve 09.24.04 at 3:27 pm

Nobody’s saying much about the actual Hobsbawm quotation, which I assume was legit, despite the satirical context of the post. So I’ll take a stab. Apart from the question of sheer numbers, maybe somebody can help me out with the crucial distinction here:

1. Ignatieff: “What that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?”
Hobsbawm: “Yes.”

2. “When asked on US television if she [Madeline Albright, US Secretary of State] thought that the death of half a million Iraqi children [from sanctions in Iraq] was a price worth paying, Albright replied: “This is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.”” — John Pilger, “Squeezed to Death”, Guardian, March 4, 2000

3. “In response to the question how many soldiers and civilians were killed in Iraq in the war, then-Gen. Colin Powell told the New York Times on March 23 [2003]: “It’s really not a number I’m terribly interested in.”


Brett Bellmore 09.24.04 at 3:28 pm

I can’t understand why you wouldn’t understand that prosecuting somebody for a crime requires a higher level of evidence than refusing to let somebody who’s not a citizen enter the country. Why wouldn’t they require different levels of evidence? Refusing somebody entrance doesn’t require a jury trial, either.


shermel 09.24.04 at 3:35 pm

“If there are serious and reliable security reasons for preventing someone from entering, how come he was granted a visa in the first place to get on that very plane, before it was diverted.”

I’m not sure if this has changed since I flew to the US in february, but a British citizen doesn’t need a visa to travel to the US. We just fill out a waiver on the plane.


Nosemonkey 09.24.04 at 3:49 pm

Shermel – depends on the purpose of the visit – a mate of mine was going out to cover a convention in the states last year (he’s a computer games journalist) and tried the visa waiver thing. He spent the next 26 hours in a glass-fronted cell in LA without being granted a phone call before being put on a plane back to the UK. Don’t risk visa waivers any more…


james 09.24.04 at 3:50 pm

This conversation presents an interesting contrast between preconceptions and base concerns. One groups primary concern is the abuse of government authority. The second groups primary concern is national security. Depending on which concern is greater, Cat Stevens was either removed due to unpopular speech or past associations with known threats.


Adi 09.24.04 at 4:21 pm

brett what does following statement mean?
“If it was a case of prosecuting a US citizen, rather than refusing a British citizen entry to the country, I’d ask for better evidence.

are you saying that you dont care about the rest of the people of the world or that they somehow don’t deserve equal rights under the law??

i am pretty sure that the rule is that as long as you are in a country legally, you are entitled to the same provisions of law as a regular citizen.

please feel free to disabuse me of my naive beliefs if you so please


harry 09.24.04 at 4:23 pm

I stand corrected, Abiola. And where does it mention terrorism? What’s your answer to mason. Why do you assume that Israel’s proclomations are entirely reliable and accurate? If I were them I wouldn’t rely absolutely on US or UK government statements; I don’t see why the US or you or I should do the same with them. Do you have any knowledge of Yusuf Islam’s role in Islam in the UK, as a pole of attraction counter to the extremist and terrorist-inclined Islam promoted by that great freind of the US, the Saudi government? Or what message this sends to moderate Muslims in the UK who have backed Yusuf Islam’s positions on issues like September 11th, against that of the Saudi-funded pro-Taliban Imams? I think the DHS is being incompetent. But most of them will see this as simple Islamophobia. Or should the DHS, or we, ignore the long-term consequences of its actions? I’m sorry if people here seem like conservative caricatures of liberals; the DHS behaved like a liberal caricature of the Israeli government: so keen to be seen to be ‘fighting’ terrorism that it does things which any sane person could see will promote terrorism.


Paul 09.24.04 at 4:28 pm

The Cold war was in fact a war

Bellmore’s War On Metaphor continues. Talk about living up to caricatures.


Verity 09.24.04 at 4:40 pm

That was so funny. Thanks for the laugh.


Scott McArthur 09.24.04 at 4:41 pm

I thought the whole episode was a sign of our weakness, that we felt it necessary to deport a non threat like Cat Islam Stevens.
I think we deported him because he betrayed us culturally. And at some level, I understand. I too despise him for turning his back on his own genius, for embracing a medieval faith, and for verbally supporting evil men such as Khomeni and Hamas.

But the West is supposed to be strong enough to weather its fools. Deporting him looked like weakness to me. And I am sure the Islamists took comfort in that.


Brett Bellmore 09.24.04 at 4:58 pm

Remarkable; You actually think the war, of which such bloody conflicts such as Viet Nam were mere battles, wasn’t really a war?

And, Adi, are there really that many countries where non-citizens have an equal right under law to be in the country? I think not.


Donald Johnson 09.24.04 at 5:26 pm

Hobsbawm’s hypothetical justification for supporting Stalin is not very different from the justifications given for wars which kill large numbers of civilians. Or soldiers, for that matter. We use different platitudes, of course. We defend “freedom and democracy”, commies build utopias.

I think some of the outrage over Hobsbawm’s comment stems from the fact that no one in his right mind would think that Stalinist famines and gulags were a necessary step on the pathway to utopia. On the other hand, the American tactic of attacking civilians sometimes works. We know that burning down Japanese cities with incendiaries and nukes was part of the process that led to a demilitarized Japan. (Whether it could have been done in some other way I don’t know.) The American air attacks which caused the destruction of virtually every Korean town (killing hundreds of thousands to two million, depending on who you read) wasn’t as “successful”, but at least it led to a draw. No need to dwell on it. Dropping millions of tons of munitions on Vietnamese towns and villages didn’t win the war, so that was a bad thing to do, like Stalin’s killings. If the US had won you’d hear about as much these days about Vietnamese free fire zones as you hear about the air war in Korea (which was probably worse.) As for the Iraqi sanctions, they “worked”–Saddam wasn’t able to build WMD’s. Of course they killed hundreds of thousands of children, but as Albright said, she thought the price was worth it.

So regarding Hobsbawm, Cat Stephens, and American officials, I say deport them all–let God sort em out.


Brett Bellmore 09.24.04 at 6:10 pm

I feel obligated to point out that, while Saddam’s decision to divert the “food for oil” program revenues to military purposes, and to bribing some of our former allies to oppose the war, rather than food and medicine, was predictable, it WAS his decision that lead to those deaths. Not the sanctions.


Donald Johnson 09.24.04 at 6:52 pm

Brett, that’s a half-truth. If you track down an article by Barton Gellman in the June 23, 1991 issue of the Washington Post, you’ll find that the US deliberately destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure during the air war with the intention of causing civilian suffering. The sanctions were part of this–they made it difficult to repair the damage and that point is made in the article. The theory was that the suffering of the Iraqi population would bring pressure to bear on Saddam, who would either be toppled or would comply with UN demands. So suffering was part of the plan. You can also see this if you go to the Human Rights Watch website and browse around, where you’ll find articles about how equipment needed to repair water treatment plants wasn’t allowed into the country by the US and/or GB. The sanctions also had the effect of cutting Iraq’s economy by a factor of nearly 5–from 60 billion dollars to 13 billion per year, from what I’ve read. That plunge in GDP dwarfs the amount of money Saddam stole, and would inevitably cause suffering even under a benign regime.

The fact that Iraqi civilian suffering was part of the plan is something that people admit every now and then–Thomas Friedman did so in passing in the NYT in early 2001 (I don’t have the exact date handy) and Kenneth Pollack also tacitly admitted it in one place in his book (which I don’t own). Friedman said it was the logic of sanctions, to hurt the population in order to pressure Saddam and Pollack said the same thing. But most people have apparently come to realize (especially in a post 9/11 world) how damning that sounds, so they usually make the claim you make. And people swallow it, because we’re a wretchedly dishonest society, not much better than Muslims who pretend 9/11 was a CIA/Mossad operation rather than admit that Muslims did it.


mona 09.24.04 at 6:54 pm

brett, this is not “refusing someone’s entry” based on immigration laws. Intelligence allegations (not even officially stated, but simply reported second-hand and anonymously) do not “require” a trial either. However, this is supposed to be about terrorism and financing terrorism. The UK has similar laws to the US on the matter. So, if there was enough evidence against someone for financing terrorism, that intelligence would form the basis for prosecution in the UK, nevermind deportation in the US. It would require prosecution in the UK. Understand what I meant now?

The US and UK are also supposed to be the joint leaders of this war on terror thing, not to mention main allies in Iraq. Don’t you think that if there was real solid evidence about the terrorist liaisons of a British citizen who also happens to be famous and famously converted to Islam, the UK would have known before anyone else?

Shermel – yes, reports said Stevens was granted a visa for this trip.

James – to me this is *both* about security and potential abuse of legal principles. I can’t separate the two. A government would not pull stunts like this if it was serious about security. If I were to believe that the sudden decision to deport Stevens in the middle of his flight was prompted by real security concerns, and that this guy is a real threat to the US and to any country concerned about terrorism – ie. all, starting with Britain! – , I would consider the US intelligence a joke for only waking up after this highly dangerous person had already been granted a visa and boarded the plane. How could I ever trust any security agency doing something like that? Even private bodyguards for a pop star would do better than that. The security procedures of a mafia gang would be more thorough. I do not happen to hold such a tragicomic view of the US (and UK) intelligence, I do not consider them that incompetent, but like any government agency they’re highly subject to the political context they operate in, so I can only conclude that this incident, like Tareq Ramadan’s case (also granted a visa which was then suddenly revoked, and also able to freely enter the US several times before in the past years), has only to do with politics, and the media effect, and timing of it, for domestic propaganda.

If I were to believe that the reason for banning both Ramadan and Islam/Stevens had to do with pure, unadulterated, fat-free security concerns about their being a terrorist threat, then I’d have to conclude France and the UK, respective countries of departure of said individuals, are terrorist havens where security threats get ignored and people can donate billions directly to Al Qaeda, all under the unperturbed gaze of the British and French authorities. Allies my ass, I’d want the UK on the axis of evil list. Really. How can I trust governments that are so incoherent?


bob mcmanus 09.24.04 at 7:14 pm

This isn’t about security, past behavior, or much about Cat Stevens.

This is of course about intimidation, deterrence, and controlling future behavior. By refusing entry to Stevens and T Ramadan, the administration is trying to move Islam in a more “moderate” direction.

Tommy Chong did federal jail time as a celebrity example.

This method is at least as old as the late 40’s, and the Right keeps its tools honed forever.


bob mcmanus 09.24.04 at 7:18 pm

Oh. Should have mentioned Charlie Chaplin in post above.

Don’t “argue cases” with these guys. It is never the point.


Paul 09.24.04 at 7:21 pm

You actually think the war, of which such bloody conflicts such as Viet Nam were mere battles, wasn’t really a war?

I think you start looking for generals whenever you hear the phrase “the moral equivalent of war.”


jif 09.24.04 at 8:54 pm

ai-ya, Mr. Bellmore needs to stop reading William Safire’s obessive NYTImes op-ed columns about the UN food for oil “scandal.” It is his tired horse, and he’s riding it, but there’s probably a very good reason why he’s the only one in the posse.


Emma 09.24.04 at 9:05 pm

And Brett–we did let Nazis in here. We recruited them! NASA did bumper crop business in rocket engineers–the same folks who were bombing Allies.


Another Damned Medievalist 09.24.04 at 10:16 pm

But … IIRC, Gerry has visited the White House itself, several times — and I seem to remember Martin McGinnis accompanying him on at least one occasion. I could be totally wrong, and things are much better in the Irelands than they used to be, but if there’s no statute of limitations for Cat Stevens, then WTF?


cerebrocrat 09.24.04 at 10:26 pm

While Chris’ post on this subject was cute, Matt Yglesias’ actually makes the point.

Rule of law, as Matt says, is the real issue here, and I’m ashamed of myself for not bothering to think that far when I first heard this story. I’m not the least ashamed, however, for wishing no good on Cat Stevens whose comments about Rushdie were and remain repulsive. Repulsive also is trivializing or waving them off.


David Tomlin 09.24.04 at 10:58 pm

After the Oklahoma city bombing, (during the Clinton years), Congress in a panic passed an anti-terrorism law, which we might now call a pre-PATRIOT Act. It was this law that authorized the deportation of people on “secret evidence”.

I’m amazed that so many people are just now noticing.


ruralsaturday 09.25.04 at 6:37 am

Mercantile hedonism didn’t get through the Middle Ages on its own wheels. Actors and singers starved and whored their way at the bottom of what little society there was at a time when “medieval religion” was the sole carrier of scholastic knowledge.
Islam is in it for the long haul, a claim that this culture whatever its current brand-name might be can’t make, unless a desperate conscienceless lunge for physical immortality at any cost can be considered “in it for the long haul”.
Islam is fierce, it was born in a fierce environment, one in which even slight weakness meant death. We seem to have got beyond that for the moment, but I wonder.
Nothing in Western culture seems capable of bearing us through what’s coming, which bodes fair to make the Dark Ages seem bright indeed.
It’s that growing uncertainty that makes harsh traditional discipline seem more viable, and the adolescent sneering of well-fed and essentially helpless Americans seem increasingly weak.
Religion isn’t a consumer choice to devout Muslims, it’s life, in opposition to death and the selfish darkness of evil. That devotion can seem dangerously ignorant to modern liberated minds. Kind of like the superstitious Christian church must have seemed to the more sophisticated, logically superior Romans, toward the end there.


snuh 09.25.04 at 8:22 am

so to review, the best evidence we have is an israeli government allegation that stevens gave money to hamas in 1988, at which time hamas had not been designated as a terrorist organisation by any government on earth, not even israel [in israel it was designated in 1989, whereas the unites states waited until 1995]. it was not until 1994 that hamas started carrying out car bombings and suicide bombings.

this is hardly persuasive, especially considering that giving money to hamas in the 1980s is something that israel itself has been accused of. of course, no one has demonstrated that israel did in fact donate money to hamas, and unsurprisingly they deny it. but then, the same goes for stevens.

anyway, this whole business about the purported hamas donation is irrelevant to the hobsbawm comparison. hobsbawm did after all give money to the british communist party as a member, and moreover did so at a time that communist parties had to assist stalin with the purges/terror/etc or be expelled from the comintern. even if the stevens-hamas thing is true, i still think the stevens-hobsbawm analogy stands.


bad Jim 09.25.04 at 9:37 am

America is now so afraid of its shadow that it has detained, jailed and deported British journalists who didn’t have a special visa.

What, you think you can visit the U.S. with just a passport (not being Brazilian, or otherwise unprivileged)?


Soul 09.25.04 at 2:35 pm

That’s why I don’t really trust Kevin Drum and the rest. They are more interested in ideology (their extremist moderation I suppose) That they don’t realize that by standing by and saying nothing while one lunatic gets sent away, He’s making it a lot easier for ANYONE with unpopular views to be deported. I don’t think he’d even say something if this were a US citizen and he was being exiled.


Nicholas Weininger 09.25.04 at 6:01 pm

Cat Stevens is a vile person, but that’s really beside the pragmatic point. The pragmatic point is: it is very bad for our image in the world, and for the promotion by example of our ideals of freedom under law, to be seen as a country that acts capriciously and arbitrarily toward people it has vague reasons for not liking.

This case is a prime example. Suppose arguendo that all the public allegations against him were and are well-founded. Denying him entry is still a really dumb idea. Whatever actual threat his presence here might represent is extremely minor compared to the damage his deportation does to our image among relatively-moderate Muslims– the people we really, really need to get on our side in order to beat al Qaeda.

This illustrates once again the utter cluelessness of the Bush strategy in the “war on terror.” They completely fail to understand that small tactical victories which lead to large propaganda defeats can be and often are net negatives.

(Now it might conceivably be that the INS had secret evidence that Stevens was not only a past financial supporter of Hamas but a presently active member of al-Qaeda. But given the record of our intelligence agencies regarding people like Yasser Hamdi, I am not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on that score.)


Steve 09.25.04 at 7:38 pm

This illustrates once again the utter cluelessness of the Bush strategy in the “war on terror.” They completely fail to understand that small tactical victories which lead to large propaganda defeats can be and often are net negatives.

On the other hand, seen in the context of the War on John Kerry, the deportation was most likely a large propaganda victory and a net positive. A big, splashy, celebrity-driven story like this will be received as proof positive by many that the administration is “doing something” about terror. The dismal record of John “0 for 5,000” Ashcroft and his pals won’t get a tiny fraction of the media attention.

Most of the time this administration only appears “clueless” at first glance. Once you accept that short-term political advantage is pretty much the alpha and omega of policymaking in the Bush White House, it all starts to make a lot more sense.


seth edenbaum 09.25.04 at 11:15 pm

Hash: SHA1

“Can someone explain this crap to me?

Version: GnuPG v1.2.4 (MingW32) – GPGshell v3.10
Comment: My Public Key is at the following URL:
Comment: http://www.alapite.net/pgp/AbiolaLapite.txt


Comments on this entry are closed.