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Monday, November 22, 2004

Middle East Stoners...



MIDDLE EAST STONERS...
Believe it or not 85% of the population of Yemen is stoned between the hours of 2pm and 6pm. It’s no big revelation. That’s just the estimated number of inhabitants that chew qat (Catha edulis) on a daily basis. Qat is a narcotic plant that produces a state of hyped euphoria to the chewer. The best way to describe it would be a cross between fifteen double espressos and a kick by a mule to your head.

It’s no big deal in Yemen. In fact, “Wherever you travel in the Yemeni highlands you see great fields and hillsides of small green trees in rows, watched over by small boys carrying sticks and AK-47s, and crouching men in centuries-old mud-brick watchtowers. The watchmen are not crouching to be sinister, but because they are chewing qat, and no one chews qat standing up.”

Of course, Yemen is working towards making TOY guns illegal. The AK-47’s, on the other hand, are quite stylish with the Yemeni youths.

A Yemeni Government study done just last year said about 90 percent of Yemeni male adults, 40 percent of female adults and 30 percent of children under 15 chewed qat regularly, either daily or weekly. Qat is, also, the “libation” of choice in Djibouti and Somalia on the Horn of Africa. In fact, you’ll find in the Somali (Black Hawk Down) de-briefing that many of those residents involved were high on Qat during that entire event. That’s not hard to believe considering most of the human debris propping up the Mogadishu warlords at the time did little else during the day.

In the enlightening words of Sameh Mukerker, a Yemeni living in Birmingham, England, “Qat-chewing Yemenis are proud to admit they are regular users. "I only chew it occasionally. But then, I have an occasion every day."

Oh, yeah, did I mention that Yemen Airways, one of the airlines that carry qat as cargo to London, said it typically carried around 400 kg ( 880 lb ) of the plant twice weekly from the Yemeni capital Sanaa. That's around 20 boxes full each time, but at Ramadan the airline carries three times that much in one flight.

That’s right. Qat is, also, legal in Great Britain, and many other European nations. It seems it followed the deluge of Yemeni Muslims that are increasingly inhabiting that part of the world.

Perhaps that's quite a bit of background to chew in order to set up the reason for this post. There is an interesting OpEd piece on Qat and its detriment to Yemen by the editor of the Yemen Times. He usually makes an effort to kick the US in the teeth on just about every piece. Yet, he continuously takes surprising positions on myriad topics. That's why I keep coming back for more. He, actually, made the suggestion during the 2004 US General Election that Muslim Americans should consider voting for a third party candidate. His reasoning was skewed, but at least after this piece, we know it wasn't Qat fortified. In fact, the Yemen Times is the only media outlet in Yemen that doesn't have a mafraj (Qat chewing room) on the premises.

Walid Al-Saqqaf has an interesting, and well thought out point of view here. So, take a gander.

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