A reader wrote in last week to ask if the song in a commercial for the 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit and Trailhawk is by the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens.
The simple answer is yes, but the reader (who asked to remain anonymous) followed up the first query with a second: “Isn’t he now a terrorist or something.” The fairest answer to that question is no, he is not a terrorist; at least he is not known to have committed a terrorist act, though he is believed to have supported terrorist groups.
Stevens, who converted in 1978 to Islam and took on the name Yusuf Islam, first made waves for himself in 1989 when he appeared on a British TV show and expressed support for the Iranian fatwa calling for the death of British author Salman Rushdie.
Asked if he’d attend a demonstration in which Rushdie was burned in effigy, he said, “I would have hoped that it’d be the real thing.’’
In 2000, Islam was booted from Israel after, officials said, the philanthropist delivered tens of thousands of dollars to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas during a visit in 1988. Then in 2004, his flight from London to Washington, DC, was diverted to Bangor, Maine, where he was questioned by US officials, then shipped back to England after it was determined he was on the government’s “no fly’’ terrorist watch list.
A US government official said Islam was believed to have made donations that wound up supporting not only Hamas but Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind Egyptian sheik convicted of seditious conspiracy for plotting to bomb New York City landmarks. (Islam said he never “knowingly’’ funded terrorists.)
Suffice it to say, that Stevens/Islam — who, by the way, is back in the U.S.A. doing concerts — is something of a controversial figure. This raises the question of why Jeep would license the work of someone with this reputation for its ad campaign. The answer, provided by an article in Ad Age dated Sept.26, 2016, is kind of mind-boggling:
Just about the time Republicans and Democrats will likely be yelling over who won tonight’s presidential debate, Jeep will run an ad that, perhaps impossibly, seeks to unite the country.
The ad, called “Free to Be,” spotlights people with different political persuasions and lifestyles — such as meat-eaters and vegetarians — before ending with the message “what unites us is stronger than what divides us.” The soundtrack is “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out,” by the former Cat Stevens, who now goes by the name Yusuf.
The only 1970s-era tune the advertising wizards at the McGarry Bowen agency could come up with was a song by a guy who is on the government’s terrorist watch list.
The spot, should you care to view it, follows.