Intervention: Khat (Diaspora Style) Live, Wednesday 4-6 Eastern Time.

Posted: February 27, 2012 by mahmerkhan in Feb. 29

Bali’s article speaks firstly of the chemical make up of Khat (Catha Edulis) then he proceeds to address its use in the social construct of how it used. He brings up past researchers such as Burton on how it is used. Since Khat is used regionally, he explains how it used in Yemen, Somalia and Eritrea. Khat is essentially used as a social stimulant. It is a leaf that must be taken in fresh otherwise it will lose it’s potency, which comes from a chemical called cathinone. It is not a drug that compares to cocaine or opium but more of a drug that mimics the effects of coffee or alcohol causing mental awareness, increase of social interaction and a slight sleepiness afterwards. Khat is used during social events such as breaks from work, during the evening or when the Oud (stringed instrument) is played. It is mainly consumed amongst men. Some say it promotes the economy while others say it bogs businesses down. Khat is consumed through smoking, chewing or via tea. Some users take it with alcohol or through a water bong. The U.S. (FDA and Customs) have deemed it illegal however England and most of Europe have simply placed a tax which is easily payable. Canada allows the consumption of it but not the importation or trafficking of khat hence the user is not charged but the smuggler is. It is hotly debated whether khat is seen as a positive or negative stimulant. Many of its users believe it be harmless and an everyday part of life whereas the political administration institutions view it as a class one drug.

The importance of this article brings to light the connection of the diasporic community of East Africa. Its through khat that the user can feel a sense of belonging, a sense of identity. Bali’s article highlights that men are the main users of khat and thus the male constructed identity is one that chews khat. We can see that Canadians are trying to bring in Khat not for profit but for a way to connect. At $50 a unit, that connection is expensive but it displays it’s importance. The money is used for immigration fees and to support large networks of the East African diaspora.

Question: Its interesting to see the view of the user in comparison to the view the larger political society. The view of the drug is important here. Who views it and how? We can allow tea, coffee and alcohol but why not Khat? Isn’t khat like coffee and less dangerous than alcohol? If it were to be accepted would that instill a culture of acceptance of one drug from the East African Horn and not…say Absinth from Europe? What holds Canada back from accepting it? Is it part fear? Part administrative bureaucracy?

Kliens article is about the traditions, the history and the social contexts its used in. He speaks mainly in a negative tone about khat and its effects. Klein highlights how khat came to be as a tradition making connections between highways, wars, trades and even global exchange. He downplays it’s authenticity in the article making it seem that it is not as long of a social tradition in Somalia as the users claim it to be. His article makes an interesting connection between allowing khat in the U.K. so that it becomes a handicap to the Somali male diaspora (addiction, not integrating into society, jobless, etc)… true or false, I am not sure but interesting indeed. Whats important in the article is that Klein’s article directly speaks about connection between khat and tradition. He connects khat as the male constructed identity and he questions the validity of khat as authentically part of the tradition. He explains that khat is socially negative for men as the women are affected indirectly by the user (usually the husband) which is diametrically opposed to how the Somali men view it.

Klein brings an important point about set and setting. He explains two sides of the argument: that the abuse of khat is not of the substance rather the new enviornment that the diaspora is in (setting) or the addictive properties of khat (set). Klein also makes a bold statement in his final conclusion “Somalis who idenity khat as part of their culture do so without really understanding the historical origin of this consumption pattern…Somali users, only gained regular access to khat in the dysfunctional setting of the civil war and the refugee camps. There is therefore no cultural memory of socially acceptable use of the susbtance among somalis.” (Klein 59) That is one hell of a statement.

Question: What do you think of Klein’s argument? Do you think the Somalis invented this attachment to khat? Do you think Klein has sufficient evidence to justify his statement? Another question I would like to hear being debated is the set vs setting. Are Somali diasporic men negatively addicted to khat because of the setting or because of it’s substance? Are Somali men as addicted to Khat in Somalia?

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