Narrow borders

Thursday, September 30th, 2004

The latest shocker from the Department of Homeland Security is that the guy who sang “Peace Train” and “Moonshadow” is a danger to our precious freedoms.

“Why is he on the watch lists? Because of his activities that could potentially be linked to terrorism.” So declared Homeland Security spokesman Brian Doyle. “The intelligence community has come into possession of additional information that further raises our concern.”

Cat Stevens, who has gone by the name Yusuf Islam since he converted to Islam in 1977, was denied admission to our shores last week because of excruciatingly vague non-allegations that maybe, somewhere along the chain of people who know people who know people who belong to groups he has given money to, a terrorist lurks. This is a standard by which almost anyone could be found suspect — and a dead giveaway that the “war on terror” is a sham.

Yusuf Islam’s defenders cry in dismay that he’s a mainstream Muslim moderate. His detractors insist that deep inside the former pop star beats the heart of a fundamentalist. Among the litany of his ideological sins: The word “jihad” appears in one of his songs and he equivocated in his condemnation of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death edict against Salman Rushdie 14 years ago.

These are stunningly trivial complaints, showing nothing so much as the low threshold for whipping up outrage and fear among the Bush faithful in Blogger Land, and the ease with which our national borders can become ideological. It has nothing to do with national security, everything to do with political obeisance.

Is our way of life under dire threat? You better believe it.

Yusuf Islam is the second high-profile Muslim in a month to get the old Texas heave-ho here. In August, noted writer and teacher Tariq Ramadan of Switzerland was prevented by the government, for reasons no less vague and spurious, from accepting a teaching post at Notre Dame University.

If you’re a Muslim, it doesn’t matter if you’re the most peace-loving guy on the planet. If you take the wrong ideological position on the invasion of Iraq or Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, you’re in trouble. Here’s an example of Ramadan’s “radicalism”:

“Promote, from where you are, the universal principles of justice and freedom,” he wrote recently, “and leave the societies elsewhere to find their own model of democracy based on their collective psychology and cultural heritage. The path ahead is long and difficult, but there is no other way to succeed except to break our intellectual ghettos, to work together beyond our narrow belonging, and to foster mutual trust in the absence of which living together is nearly impossible.”

Such words mock Ramadan’s bureaucratic tormentors and make me, for one, pulse with frustration — at the narrow, intolerant nation Bush and his minions would make us. They act in our name, these national bouncers. They peddle fear and our borders grow narrower and narrower.

Then they tell us they are protecting us, and that’s the rawest rub of all. Legitimate security risks who happen to be “ideologically correct” find no obstacle at our security checkpoints. Gaspar Jimenez, Guillermo Novo and Pedro Remon certainly didn’t.

This bloody trio of Cold War plug-uglies, along with their cohort Luis Posada (a.k.a., “Bambi”), were convicted a few years ago of a failed plot to set off 33 pounds of explosives at a University of Panama auditorium during the Ibero-American summit conference in Panama in November 2000. If they’d been successful, they could have killed hundreds — maybe thousands — of people. Their target was Fidel Castro, who was a scheduled speaker at the summit.

After receiving controversial pardons, the three men flew by private jet to Miami, where they waltzed past federal officials into the waiting arms of the city’s anti-Castro Cuban community, a key piece in the Bush re-election puzzle.

These three are not people whose “activities could potentially be linked to terrorism.” They’re the real deal: convicted killers with records a mile long. Novo, for instance, was implicated in the 1976 assassination of former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and his American colleague, Ronni Moffitt, in Washington, D.C. — our very soil.

That’s no problem to the reckless ideologues watching our borders, who coddle terrorists but keep out moon shadows.