Trump embraces a post-American world


September 24, 2017

Trump embraces a post-American world

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-embraces-a-post-american-world/2017/09/21/91342088-9f09-11e7-9083-fbfddf6804c2_story.html?utm_term=.5fd39afd8d31

President Trump’s speech to the United Nations was well delivered. But it was a strange mishmash of topics and tones, in parts celebrating realpolitik but then also asserting the importance of freedom and democracy. There was, however, one overriding theme — the embrace of nationalism. And in striking that chord, Trump did something unusual, perhaps unique for a U.S. president: He encouraged, even embraced the rise of a post-American world.

President Donald Trump’s Speech @ UNGA –ENCORE

First, the mishmash. Early in his speech, Trump asserted, “In America, we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone.” But then, a few minutes later, Trump proceeded to castigate North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba for their undemocratic political systems, virtually demanding that they all become Western-style liberal democracies.

The danger of this kind of lofty rhetoric is that it has been selectively applied, so it is seen cynically by the rest of the world as a way to dress up American self-interest. Trump took this hypocrisy to a new level. He denounced Iran for its lack of freedoms and, almost in the same breath, made favorable mention of Saudi Arabia. By any yardstick — political rights, religious tolerance, free speech — Iran is a much more open society than Saudi Arabia, which is an absolute monarchy allied to the world’s most fanatical religious establishment, where churches and synagogues are prohibited.

The main thrust of Trump’s speech was about nationalism. He celebrated sovereignty and nationalism, choosing an odd example. Latching onto a few words by President Harry S. Truman in support of the Marshall Plan, Trump described that approach to international relations as “beautiful” and “noble.” But can anyone imagine Trump actually supporting the Marshall Plan? It was a massive foreign aid program, administered by government bureaucrats to help foreigners revive their industries — which became competitors to U.S. firms. Washington spent, as a percentage of gross domestic product, roughly five times what it spent during the combat phase of the war in Afghanistan, according to one estimate. To make the Marshall Plan work, Washington encouraged European nations to cede economic sovereignty and create the European Coal and Steel Community, which was the genesis of the European Union.

The most significant line in Trump’s speech was this one, delivered dramatically: “As President of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries will always, and should always, put your countries first.”

But this is what countries such as Russia and China have been saying for the past few decades. For the past 70 years, the great debate among nations has been between those who argued for narrow national interests and those who believed that lasting peace and prosperity depended on promoting broader common interests. The latter stance, conceived by FDR and supported by every U.S. president since, is what produced the United Nations and all the organizations that monitor and assist with trade, travel, disease, crime and weather issues, among a host of others, that spill over borders and can only be handled at a regional or global level.

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But Trump is tired of being the world’s leader. He whined in his speech that other countries are unfair in their dealings with the United States, and that somehow the most powerful nation in the world, which dominates almost every international forum, is being had. His solution, a return to nationalism, would be warmly welcomed by most of the world’s major players — Russia and China, but also countries such as India and Turkey — which tend to act on the basis of their narrow self-interest. Of course, that will mean a dramatic acceleration of the post-American world, one in which these countries will shape policies and institutions, unashamedly to their own benefit rather than any broader one.

Trump grumbled about the fact that the United States pays 22 percent of the U.N.’s budget, which is actually appropriate because it’s roughly equivalent to America’s share of global GDP. Were he to scale back U.S. support, he might be surprised how fast a country like China will leap in to fill the gap. And once it does, China will dominate and shape the United Nations — and the global agenda — just as the United States has done for seven decades. Perhaps the Chinese will suggest that the organization’s headquarters be moved to Beijing. Come to think of it, it would free up acres of land on the East River where Trump could build a few more condominiums.

 

Malaysia: How can a beer fest be a security threat?


September 22, 2017

MY COMMENT: Actions taken by bureaucrats (most of them with degrees from local universities and abroad) at the behest of their hypocritical UMNO political masters make us a laughing stock to the rest of the world. My colleagues at The University of Cambodia and my students look at me as if I were from another planet of saints of the Islamic variety who say one thing and do something else, worse still when no one else is watching.

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The beer fest affair is just of one of those stupid things our politicians of the Islamic faith do to our citizens by depriving them of their rights to be themselves as long as they respect the rights of their Muslim brothers and sisters. What irreparable harm is being done when we and our friends gather socially for a glass of beer!

My friend Nades is gutsy enough to say what he thinks about this affair. By giving security concerns as the excuse for calling off the event is not only flimsy and cynical,  but also nonsensical. Furthermore, in this case, Malaysians are being treated as “kids and fools”. It is alright to treat MCA, MIC and Gerakan leaders and their supporters that way. After all, they have grown  accustomed to being scorned and insulted by their UMNO bosses in Barisan  Nasional. But doing that to us all by infringing upon our fundamental rights to  be ourselves and choose our friends is unacceptable.

I can only add my disgust at the attitude of our authorities. I am wondering how  much more we as Malaysians can tolerate this patronizing attitude of the current Administration. It has been trampling on our rights to freedom of speech, association and expression since Najib Razak took office in 2009 with a 1Malaysia slogan, Rakyat DiDahulukan, Prestasi DiUtamakan. What he has shown over these years is Rakyat diKetepikan, Prestasi diAbaikan.

To think that Najib Razak’s UMNO-BN will be returned to power come GE-14 makes me throw my hands in the air. If that happens, unless our East Malaysian brothers and sisters vote to reject his leadership, I think I can say that we deserve the government we choose, one that uses religion to differentiate and divide us.–Din Merican

How can a beer fest be a security threat?

COMMENT | There are some moments in our daily lives when we ask ourselves, “Do we deserve to be treated this way?” The answer is always, “We deserve the government we elected.” Really?

When government leaders treat citizens as children and expect us to accept everything they say – hook, line and sinker – the anger seethes and churns in our systems. While many can take it with a pinch of salt and laugh at their antics, there are times when their puerile statements make us wonder why they are sitting up there.

When they tell us the “political sensitivity” and “security threat” have similar meanings and connotations, we are compelled to stand up and ask: “Sir, are you taking us to be kids or fools or idiots?”

Now before anyone takes up the cudgel and tar our leaders with the same brush, let it be specific.

On Monday, Sinar Harian had quoted Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) Corporate Planning Department Director Khalid Zakaria as saying that an application to hold the Better Beer Festival had been rejected because of “political sensitivity”. On the same evening, Kuala Lumpur Mayor Mohd Amin Nordin Abd Aziz has declined to comment on this matter.

The organisers – Mybeer (M) Sdn Bhd – issued a statement which read: “We were further informed that the decision was made due to political sensitivity surrounding the event.”

Of course, right-minded citizens expressed their disgust over this insisting that their rights are being impeded. Joining the chorus were politicians on both sides of the divide. Well and good. Every inch of their support, although in some cases, couched in politically-correct language, was needed to stop this intrusion into one’s personal choice.

The MCA asked City Hall to be “consistent and accountable”. Its religious harmony bureau chief Ti Lian Ker, said: “They cannot arbitrarily reject the application and threaten to take action against the organiser without giving a proper account or reasons for the rejection.”

But on Wednesday, there was a complete turnaround. MCA president and Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said the authorities had told cabinet during its weekly meeting that safety was one of the reasons why the craft beer festival was cancelled.

If security had been “real” reason, why was it not conveyed to the organisers? Why did City Hall have to lie by saying “political sensitivity”? If security was an issue, surely the organisers would have made other arrangements and beefed up security.

From Joe Public’s standpoint, all this appears to be an afterthought and a shameful charade. We have no intention of causing alarm and panic, but are we to assume that any congregation of people would require them to look over their shoulders while sipping their beer?

Held to ransom

Two Saturdays ago, a group of friends were at a screening party where the match between Liverpool and Manchester City was telecast on a large screen. The venue was a pub in Sri Hartamas and there were more than 100 people. Fans of both clubs enjoyed the beers and game. Liverpool fans drowned their sorrows while City fans celebrated.

Every weekend, there are scores of such screening parties in pubs, restaurants and mamak shops. Are they targets too? Will they ban such screenings?

If the mantra previously was “moderation”, it has now become “security”. What purpose do sloganeering, walks and campaigns serve when our rights are being disregarded and dismissed summarily?

Six years ago, in one of the hallowed halls of University of Cambridge, Prime Minister Najib Razak extolled the virtues of Malaysia’s moderation quoting the Quran, the Bible and even the Torah.

Today, such notations are in shambles; the nation is being held to ransom by a handful of zealots. Yet, the government is watching with folded arms and refuses to stand up to this kind of bullying.

Even the civil service has become subservient to the frolics of the few. All and sundry have got their priorities wrong for political expediency.

At every turn, religion is creeping into our daily lives unabated. Despite espousing moderation both verbally and in writing, these so-called advocates of temperance and reasonableness retreat into their cocoons when confronted with issues.

We cannot continue putting up our hands and saying, “What can we do?” We have to say, “Enough is enough”, and collectively drown the voices of the few who are trying to impose their values on the rest of the citizens.


R Nadeswaran.

President Donald Trump addresses the United Nations General Assembly


September 19, 2017

President Donald Trump Addresses The United Nations General Assembly

Trump: “We are calling for a great reawakening of nations”

Trump concluded his UN speech by urging for a “great reawakening of nations” and a “revival of their spirits.”

“Now, we are calling for a great reawakening of nations. For the revival of their spirits, their pride, their people an their patriotism,” the President said. “History is asking us if we are up to the task. Our answer will be a renewal of will, a rediscovery of resolve and a rebirth of devotion.”

Listen to The President of The United States of America at The United Nations. He said leaders must serve their people and let me know what you think. –Din Merican

The Powerless Lady evades the Rohingya Issue in her speech to the World


December 19, 2017

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and de facto leader of Myanmar, stood before a room of government officials and foreign dignitaries on Tuesday to at last, after weeks of international urging, address the plight of the country’s Rohingya ethnic minority.

But those who expected Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi to deliver an eloquent requiem for an oppressed people were disappointed.

In her speech, delivered in crisp English and often directly inviting foreign listeners to “join us” in addressing Myanmar’s problems, she steadfastly refused to criticize the Myanmar military, which has been accused of a vast campaign of killing, rape and village burning.

“The security forces have been instructed to adhere strictly to the code of conduct in carrying out security operations, to exercise all due restraint and to take full measures to avoid collateral damage and the harming of innocent civilians,” she said.

As she spoke, more than 400,000 Rohingya, a Muslim minority long repressed by the Buddhists who dominate Myanmar, had fled a military massacre that the United Nations has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The lucky ones are suffering in makeshift camps in Bangladesh where there is not nearly enough food or medical aid.

A stark satellite analysis by Human Rights Watch shows that at least 210 of their villages have been burned to the ground since the offensive began on August 25. Bangladeshi officials say that land mines had been planted on Myanmar’s side of the border, where the Rohingyas are fleeing.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi tried to mollify her critics by saying she was committed to restoring peace and the rule of law.

“We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence,” she said. “We feel deeply for the suffering of all the people caught up in the conflict.”

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Supporters of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, on Tuesday. Credit Lynn Bo Bo/European Pressphoto Agency

But asking why the world did not acknowledge the progress made in her country, she also boasted that Muslims living in the violence-torn area had ample access to health care and radio broadcasts.

It was a remarkable parroting of the language of the generals who locked her up for the better part of two decades, and in the process made a political legend of her: the regal prisoner of conscience who vanquished the military with no weapons but her principles.

Officials in Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government have accused the Rohingyas, who have suffered decades of persecution and have been mostly stripped of their citizenship, of faking rape and burning their own houses in a bid to hijack international public opinion. She has done nothing to correct the record.

A Facebook page associated with her office suggested that international aid groups were colluding with Rohingya militants, whose attack on Myanmar police posts and an army base precipitated the fierce military counteroffensive. In a statement, her government labeled the insurgent strikes “brutal acts of terrorism.”

It has been a stunning reversal for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, 72, who was once celebrated alongside the likes of Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa. The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to her for her “nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights.”

During her address, made from a vast convention center in Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi tried to evoke a program of grand goals including democratic transition, peace, stability and development. But she also cautioned that the country’s long experience with authoritarian rule and nearly seven decades of ethnic conflict in Myanmar’s frontier lands have frayed national unity.

“People expect us to overcome all these challenges in as short a time as possible,” she said, noting that her civilian government only took office last year. “Eighteen months is a very short time in which to expect us to meet and overcome all the challenges that we are facing.”

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Myanmar police officers at the Bangladesh border near Maungdaw Township in Rakhine State last month. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

But there were worrisome signs from the moment she entered a power-sharing agreement with the military after her National League for Democracy won 2015 elections.

Myanmar’s generals — who ruled the country for nearly half a century and turned a resource-rich land also known as Burma into an economic failure — stage-managed every facet of the political transition. The Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar Army is known, made sure to keep the most important levers of power for itself.

It also effectively relegated Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi to the post of state counselor by designing a Constitution that kept her from the presidency.

“It’s always a dance with the generals,” said U Win Htein, an N.L.D. party elder. “She needs to be very quick on her feet.”

Mr. Win Htein, a former military officer who served alongside some of the Tatmadaw’s highest-ranking generals, warned that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi had to placate an army with a history of pushing aside civilian leaders under the pretext of defending national sovereignty.

“The army, they are watching her every word,” he said. “One misstep on the Muslim issue, and they can make their move.”

Yet even before the compromises that accompanied her ascension to power, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was already distancing herself from the hopes invested in her by the international community.

“Let me be clear that I would like to be seen as a politician, not some human rights icon,” she said in an interview shortly after her release from house arrest in 2010.

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Rohingya refugees resting after crossing into Bangladesh from Myanmar last month. Credit Adam Dean for The New York Times

Such a recasting of her role has disappointed Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates. In an open letter, Desmond Tutu, the South African former archbishop, advised his “dearly beloved younger sister” that “if the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”

Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi social entrepreneur and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, was even more pointed.

“She should not have received a Nobel Peace Prize if she says, sorry, I’m a politician, and the norms of democracy don’t suit me,” he said in a telephone interview with The New York Times. “The whole world stood by her for decades, but today she has become the mirror image of Aung San Suu Kyi by destroying human rights and denying citizenship to the Rohingya.”

“All we can do,” he said, “is pray for the return of the old Aung San Suu Kyi.”

Beyond her personal legacy, the direction of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership carries global consequence.

“People are invested in her because we need her to succeed. This is a democratic moment, and she represents Burma’s democratic promise,” said Derek Mitchell, the former American ambassador to Myanmar. “The country sits at the crossroads of Asia in a region where democracy is in retreat, which makes Burma’s success even more important.”

In Tuesday’s speech, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, acknowledged the state of democracy in her country.

“We are a young and fragile democracy facing many problems,” she said, “but we have to cope with them all at the same time.”

But she also stressed that “more than 50 percent” of Rohingya villages in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine remained “intact.” And she seemed to borrow vocabulary from a self-help manual when she described the need to research why certain villages had not been touched by the violence.

“We have to remove the negative and increase the positive,” she said.

As the daughter of the assassinated independence hero Gen. Aung San, who founded the modern Burmese Army, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has been unapologetic about her fondness for the military, even as it has driven out the Rohingyas and stepped up military offensives against other ethnic armed groups.

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Fires in Myanmar as seen from the Bangladesh side of the border this month. The Myanmar military has been accused of a vast campaign of killing, rape and village burning. Credit Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

“We do not have any trust in Aung San Suu Kyi because she was born into the military,” said Hkapra Hkun Awng, a leader of the Kachin ethnicity from northern Myanmar, one of more than a dozen minorities whose rebel armies have fought the Tatmadaw over the decades. “She is more loyal to her own people than to the ethnics. Her blood is thicker than a promise of national reconciliation.”

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi belongs to the country’s Bamar ethnic majority.

Even before the mudslinging of the 2015 election campaign, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was sidestepping questions about the sectarian violence in Rakhine that disproportionately affected the Rohingya. Rather than condemning pogroms against the persecuted Muslim minority, she has dismissed accusations of ethnic cleansing and called, instead, for rule of law to solve any problem.

Because most Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship by the military, it has not been clear how any laws might apply to them. Indeed, even though Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi said Tuesday that Myanmar was prepared to repatriate refugees who can establish that they are residents of Myanmar, that may be a formidable task for people who are unlikely to have documents proving they lived in Myanmar before fleeing across the border.

“I can confirm now that we are ready to start the verification process at any time, and those who have been verified as refugees from this country will be accepted without any problems and with full assurances of their security and their access to humanitarian aid,” she said.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has largely shielded herself from the media and has holed up in Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s bunkered capital, which was unveiled more than a decade ago by a junta paranoid that the former capital, Yangon, might be vulnerable to foreign invasion.

Earlier this month, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi chose not to attend the United Nations General Assembly, where her stance on the Rohingya would surely have met with criticism. Just a year ago, as the nation’s new civilian leader, she attended the annual assembly and was celebrated by world leaders.

Still, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is attuned enough to public sentiment to understand the deep reservoir of anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar. Even though a Muslim bloc had been a loyal patron of the N.L.D. for decades, the party did not choose to stand a single Muslim candidate in the 2015 polls.

If anything, her equivocations on the Rohingya have given currency to the widely held assumption in Myanmar that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who have occupied land that rightfully belongs to the Burmese.

Since Myanmar’s political transition began, a virulent strain of Buddhist extremism has pushed such attitudes further into the mainstream. Influential monks have preached anti-Muslim rhetoric and pushed successfully for a law that circumscribes interfaith marriage. N.L.D. elders have prayed at the feet of one of the movement’s spiritual godfathers.

“Buddhist nationalist radicalism has been allowed to spread basically unchecked,” said Min Zin, the executive director of the Institute for Strategy and Policy Myanmar. “The government is doing very little to stop it.”

A Bit of History for The Donald


September 18, 2017

Notes and Comment–A Bit of History for The Donald

The Unlikely Return of Cat Stevens


September 17, 2017

The Unlikely Return of Cat Stevens


Cat Stevens was giving us back the songs he’d taken away so many years ago. He was, after all this time, validating their worth again, and with it, our love for them.

Photograph by Matt Writtle / eyevine / Redux

Early in a Cat Stevens, a.k.a. Yusuf Islam, a.k.a. Yusuf/Cat Stevens, concert in Boston a couple of years ago, there was a hushed pause in the room as the then sixty-six-year-old performer waited for a stagehand to bring him a guitar in between songs. “I’m really happy to be here!” the singer suddenly exclaimed. It did not sound like ersatz show-biz banter; it sounded humble, childlike even, as if he himself were surprised by the emotion. It sounded like capitulation. The crowd, in response, rose to its feet en masse, producing a sound that was more than just a cheer. It was an embrace. It was an acknowledgment by artist and audience alike: Cat Stevens, a figure who, for all intents and purposes, had ceased to exist more than three decades ago, had come back.

For a long time, it has been hard to love the man once known (and now known again) as Cat Stevens. In the years since he formally retired from the popular music world, in 1978, his name has popped up in the media from time to time. He would be quoted, or seen in a video-clip interview, and it was difficult to accept the visage of the person whom he now presented himself as—to reconcile this cold, humorless, unhappy, and severe-looking man with the joyful, understanding, goofy, wise songwriter whose music we’d known and loved. For a long time, the man who’d changed his name to Yusuf Islam had completely disowned his artistic output as Cat Stevens—a confusing, dispiriting slap in the face to those it once meant a great deal to.

The man who was Cat Stevens ran Islamic schools for children, spreading the word of Allah, and acted as a spokesperson for Islam. After a while, he began making some children’s albums, but he wasn’t playing the guitar, and the music was not for his traditional fan base. In interviews, he sounded defensive and removed. Some remarks attributed to him seemed to be in line with some of the more distasteful prejudices of orthodox Islam.

Then, in 2006, came “An Other Cup,” his first album of commercial music in twenty-eight years. He’d dropped his adopted last name of Islam, and was now calling himself, simply, Yusuf. Something had shifted, certainly. How welcome it was to hear that voice with that guitar again, after all these years. Still, the album’s opening track, “Midday (Avoid City After Dark),” set a tone of unease, paranoia, and judgment that never really lifted. Elsewhere on the recording, there was a revisit to a much earlier composition (“I Think I See the Light”) and an interesting (if forced-sounding) reworking of a section of his “Foreigner Suite” (“Heaven/Where True Love Goes”), but the bulk of the album felt earthbound. Nowhere was there the joie de vivre that inhabited his best work. The follow-up, “Roadsinger,” in 2009, sounded fresher, but still unconvincing. Which was it—was he wary of us, or we of him? There seemed to be skepticism and distrust on both sides.

Some live performances began to appear here and there online. Yusuf was steadfast about not playing any old Cat Stevens material, save for a select few songs that he could justify in the context of his religious path, such as “The Wind” and “Peace Train.” He had collaborated on a musical called “Moonshadow” that featured actors singing some of his old songs and was having a run in Australia. It proved a critical and financial flop.

I paid attention to all of this because, unhip as this may be to admit, the music of Cat Stevens once meant a great deal to me. I did not grow up listening to it, per se (I was too young), but his music became the soundtrack to my adolescence when I watched “Harold and Maude” for the first time, and my world changed. I went out and got a guitar. I listened to Cat Stevens obsessively, played and sang his songs with friends, hunted down all of his albums. While it was clear that he’d lost his way artistically on later albums like “Numbers” and “Izitso,” the earlier, classic albums that he’s still known for (“Mona Bone Jakon” through “Foreigner”) were full of treasures that could be mined again and again. Indelible melodies, beautiful production, emotionally committed performances, and, most of all, a gentle wisdom, a repudiation of the status quo, a sense that we were not alone. Here was someone who was trying to make sense of life, too; he may not have had the answers, but he was looking for them, and we were encouraged to join him. Here was a friend.

Of course, I quickly learned that Cat Stevens had already ceased to be. My adolescent soul despaired, knowing that there would be no more Cat Stevens albums, no more Cat Stevens concerts. The man who had become a hero to me had long since retired from the music world.

In time, his music, too, would fade from my consciousness. As I grew and matured, so did my musical tastes and sensibilities. I might reach for a Cat Stevens album on rare occasions, to remind myself of something that I’d once treasured, sometimes surprised that a song or album held up as strongly as it did, but his music was no longer a living thing for me. I paid attention when he came out of retirement with the two Yusuf albums, and listened to each of them a handful of times with attendant hopes and (it seemed) inevitable disappointment. It was hard to get excited about his music now. The voice was the same, but the spirit was changed, different, unwelcoming.

Nevertheless, when it was announced, in late 2014, that he was going to perform in America for the first time in thirty-eight years, I put my misgivings aside and became a teen-ager again, queueing up for tickets on the phone the morning they went on sale. I did not listen to his latest album, “Tell ‘Em I’m Gone,” nor did I look for any news about the kinds of shows that he’d been playing of late. I simply drove up to Boston to see my old hero, expectations dimmed to almost nothing. I imagined that there I would see Yusuf Islam, delivering a respectful program of his latter-day music, with perhaps one or two old favorites thrown in as crowd appeasement. I wasn’t going for Yusuf Islam. I was going to pay homage to the singer who had once meant so much to me, for the chance to simply be in the same room with him for the first (and what I assumed would be the last) time.

It has taken some time for me to think clearly about what it was like to be at that show. What happened there was more than just a good concert given by a group of well-rehearsed, talented musicians, backing a pop icon on a comeback tour, though it was partly that. It was more than just a nostalgic trip down memory lane, as a sold-out crowd sang along to songs that many (including myself) never expected to hear played live again, though it was partly that, too. Without resorting to hyperbole, being there, for me, was an unexpected catharsis, something like seeing a ghost.

I didn’t know, until I got there, that the singer was now billing himself with the ungainly but revealing name of Yusuf/Cat Stevens. Was he now acknowledging his former self? This was a surprise, the first of many that the evening would hold.

The once and future Cat Stevens walked onstage to a tremendous ovation (no surprise there) and launched into a solo performance of “The Wind.” O.K., in some way, this was what we’d all come for, and here he’d already given it to us. All the latter-day Yusuf stuff would follow, we’d give him some hearty applause at the encore, and that would be that—or so I thought. What was this, though? He was wearing sunglasses and a leather jacket—not the austere, devotional garb he’d worn in the (admittedly not so recent) appearances that I’d seen him do online. And the stage set—it was elaborate, whimsical, evocative of the old Cat, whose tastes sometimes crossed the line into outright silliness. Most significantly, though, he himself seemed engaged, connected, and—hardest to believe—lighthearted.

“Here Comes My Baby” and “The First Cut Is the Deepest” followed, two pop hits from the infancy of his career, both secular love songs, both jarring surprises. “Thinking ‘Bout You” followed, a more recent song of love and devotion, but it was buoyed by an energy and commitment that sustained the freshness of what had come before, and served as a bridge to the first real shock of the night, as the singer made his way to a piano at the side of the stage and, unaccompanied, launched into the opening strains of “Sitting,” and the crowd seemed to collectively gasp before erupting into joyous, grateful cheers. Here he was again. Cat Stevens. Questioning, seeking, proudly admitting that he did not have the answers, but that he was on his way to find them. Our companion, our friend, had returned.

It was the first of what would be many goosebump-inducing moments in the generous, two-part concert. He followed it with “Last Love Song,” from 1978’s obscure (and mostly uninspired-sounding) “Back to Earth,” the mere fact that he was exploring and reclaiming obscurities from his back catalogue speaking volumes. By the time he reached the end of the first set, closing it with “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out,” the message was clear—something had happened. He was giving us back the songs he’d taken away so many years ago. He was, after all this time, validating their worth again, and with it, our love for them. After insisting for so many years, as Yusuf Islam, that there was only one way, only one truth, one law, one path, he’d relented. He was giving us permission, again, to do and think and live how we wanted. And he seemed genuinely happy saying and singing it.

The second set held even more surprises, as song after song from the old œuvre was brought back to life. “Oh Very Young,” “Sad Lisa,” “Miles from Nowhere” (I have my freedom / I can make my own rules / Oh yeah, the ones that I choose). They were presented, for the most part, as set pieces, with hardly any improvisation at all, but that didn’t matter. The faithful Alun Davies was there on lead acoustic guitar, as he has been since 1970. Matt Sweeney was a welcome addition on electric guitar, adding a pinch of verve and danger to the mix, but if old concert footage is any indication, Cat Stevens was never one for taking too many risks onstage musically, choosing instead to eschew spontaneity in deference to the arrangements on his studio recordings.

It was touching to hear the singer-songwriter still tinkering with that beautiful failure “Foreigner Suite,” still trying to get it right. Classics such as “Where Do the Children Play?” and “Trouble” brought with them a great sadness; confronted with the simplicity, the naïveté even, of the sentiments in these gentle lyrics, it was impossible not to think of how the world has changed and darkened since these songs were written and last performed. Even “Moonshadow,” that lullaby of Buddhist acceptance, carried with it the sting of longing for less dire times.

Being at that concert, hearing those songs again, sung with conviction by that man, was like being allowed to spend a night in one’s childhood home, with everything back the way that it was from some preëxistential, innocent moment—with even one’s family members frozen in time the way that they were decades ago. For me, it was eerie, spooky, unsettling, like Emily’s return from the dead in “Our Town.”

At the end of each of these old songs, there was that same sustained applause that followed his aside, early in the show, about how happy he was to be there. It’s a sound I keep coming back to in my mind when I think about the experience of being at that concert, a sound distinct from any that I think I have ever heard. It was an entity, a palpable force, as though the emotion behind every voice and every pair of hands could be heard. There was a sort of desperate celebration to it. It was the sound of reconciliation, of gratitude, of forgiveness.

Yusuf/Cat Stevens has a new album coming out this week, called “A Laughing Apple,” and more tour dates have been announced. I have not heard the new recording yet, but news of its release has led me to reflect on that night, when it felt as though this shape-shifting performer had brought someone we once loved back from the dead, a phantom from another time, and with that act offered tacit acknowledgment that we’re so much better together than we are apart. It’s a notion as naïvely idealistic as any he ever gave us; an echo from the past, finding its way to us past a wall that is, miraculously, no longer there

Howard Fishman is a writer, performer, and composer based in Brooklyn,  New York.