MY QUEASY stomach generally keeps me from attending Ku Klux Klan rallies and similar events which some brave souls attend just to see what the hatemongers are up to. Thus I didn't get to a recent gathering in Potomac, little more than a stone's throw from where I live.
Something billed as an educational lecture was delivered there in the mosque of the Islamic Education Center by Yusuf Islam, a British subject formerly known as pop singer Cat Stevens. Stevens/Islam was touring the U.S. to raise money for Muslim schools, and the Potomac meeting was his kickoff appearance. The next day, he spoke in Rockville. From there he was to proceed to Shrewsbury, Mass., and other locations.
I have nothing against Muslim schools and youth groups, and I certainly recognize their right to exist. Yusuf Islam, however, preaches the Ayatollah Khomeini version of the faith and has been prominent in upholding the late ayatollah's fatwa (a "legal memorandum" from the spiritual leader) calling upon the faithful everywhere in the world to work toward the assassination of the theologically incorrect author, Salman Rushdie.
Stevens/Islam's Potomac host, school principal Agieb Bilal, at the accompanying press conference, reportedly warned: "I'll tell you right now, as soon as you bring up Salman Rushdie, we're going to cut this off." But the cornered Stevens/Islam did hew doggedly to his support of the Khomeini kill-Rushdie decree, arguing that Judaism and Christianity in their scriptures also mandate death for the blasphemer.
I suppose it was rather becoming that school principal Bilal showed some embarrassment, but a more important question intrigues me: Why isn't the U.S. State Department also embarrassed?
There have been occasions when the department denied visas to would-be foreign visitors on the ground that it would not be in the interest of the United States to admit them, and not so long ago Austria's Kurt Waldheim was declared, in effect, persona non grata because of his complicity in Nazi war crimes.
But in Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam we behold a foreign visitor who has helped to incite international gangs in the murder plot against Rushdie, forced into hiding (a sort of house arrest) somewhere in England. And about Sevens/Islam, not a peep out of our State Department! Shortly before the ex-pop singer's arrival, a Japanese citizen was murdered in Tokyo and an Italian was knifed in Milan because of their role in translating Rushdie's novel, "The Satanic Verses." Their counterparts in the U.S. and elsewhere are similarly at risk.
If anything happens to Rushdie -- beyond what has already happened to him -- his assailants will say, "Allah made me do it." In America, if you kill somebody for his published opinions, you cannot use such a defense. Murder is murder, even if the killer thinks he was only acting as God's instrument.
Dealing with other groups with a similar totalitarian mentality, attorney Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Klanwatch has found ways to hold our domestic hatemongers responsible for lynchings and murders blueprinted by their organizations, and jurors have slapped them with crushing damage awards amounting to millions of dollars.
If the plot to rub out Rushdie succeeds, I hope Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam and other spokesmen for their international Murder Inc. will -- somehow, somewhere -- be brought to book.
In any event, our State Department ought to be hanging its head in shame.
Stan Lichtenstein writes from somewhere in Bethesda.