Something Bad Has Begun

The former Cat Stevens writes that he hasn't changed--but the U.S. has.

I was flying to Nashville last week with my 21-year-old daughter to explore some new musical ideas with a record label there. Ironically, I was trying to remain low-profile because of the speculation that it might have raised in the music world about a return of "the Cat." Media attention was the last thing I wanted. But it seems God wanted otherwise.



Toward the end of our journey from London to Washington, the plane was diverted. The captain announced something about "heavy traffic." After landing in Bangor, Maine, six tall, blue-uniformed officers boarded and surrounded me and my daughter.

"Is your name Yusuf Islam?" they asked.

"Yes," I confirmed.

"Do you mind coming with us and answering a few questions?"

At that point my heart stopped, and my daughter's face turned aspirin-white. This was the start of the nightmare.

Three FBI agents escorted me away from my daughter and asked me questions. At first, it sounded like they might have me mixed up with somebody else, as they repeated the spelling of my name.

"No. Y-u-s-u-f," I carefully spelled out. The agents looked a bit puzzled.

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As they continued asking questions, some of their queries were obviously not related to me, so I thought this must be a matter of simple mistaken identity. Whether it was a mix-up or not remained unclear because they weren't under any obligation to give me a reason; the green visa waiver form I had so neatly filled in earlier had effectively denied me any right to appeal or answers. It was only when an immigration official read out to me a legal reference number that he mentioned some implication with "terrorism"--no further details necessary.

The most upsetting thing was being separated from my daughter for 33 hours--not knowing how she was or when and where we might be united. Because my phone was confiscated, I couldn't contact my family.

God almighty! Is this the same planet I'd taken off from? I was devastated. The unbelievable thing is that only two months earlier, I had been having meetings in Washington with top officials from the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to talk about my charity work. Even further back, one month after the attack on the World Trade Center, I was in New York meeting Peter Gabriel and Hillary Rodham Clinton at the World Economic Forum!

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