Khat abroad, February 29

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

“Bundles of Choice” was an interesting article in which divulged into the various practices, techniques, valuation and processes of miraa and the miraa trade, but overall I did not receive any substantial information on miraa in relation to a diaspora context. Neil Carrier discusses extensively on these practices but makes a few crucial points worth contemplating. He discusses briefly how miraa becomes commoditized extensively locally and abroad and also simultaneously has the ability to become decommoditized for very specific ceremonial circumstances such. The most stimulating argument Carrier makes is that miraa has become increasingly valued both locally and overseas as miraa essentially becomes incorporated into an East African identity.

The Author Wedeen, L in “The Politics of Deliberation” embarks on a criticism of western style democracy and how other people participate in the democratic process. A rigid understanding of what it means to participate in democracy is widespread throughout western thought, where citizens as individuals cast a ballot and retire from their involvement as an active member of the nation. This article contests these notions and condemns this process as an impersonal and ambivalent process that does not fit into Yemeni political culture. The author argues that the experience of khat chewing gatherings allows for an arena where individuals may deliberate, discuss, negotiate, argue, air grievances and actively participate within their own politic. Wedeen goes on to argue that these khat meetings represent an integral aspect of the Yemeni democratic process.

The other pieces we read for this week strongly discussed the Somali experience with Khat, specifically their use, desire and the reaction to that in the diaspora. The article by Axel Klein divulges into the most significant debate on whether the use of Khat is mainly for a traditional or pharmaceutical use by Somalis, specifically in the United Kingdom. Klein argues that Khat was not widely used in Somalia until the 1970’s, however, it does not have to be an age old traditional practice to hold legitimacy as a relevant cultural tradition. The Somali diaspora has significantly increased since their tragic civil war and many Western nations have seen a large influx of immigrants from this area. With this rise of Somali immigrants since their civil war and there has been increased discussion on their traditional practices, cultural needs and social contributions. Many Somalis, and others, acknowledge that Khat chewing is a way of maintaining a connection to their home and their culture.

There is an ongoing struggle with maintaining the balance between preserving cultural components that hold important value and meaning to a community and controlling that community. The control over the use, definitions and distribution of Khat throughout the diaspora is two pronged, one being an argument that it is unsafe, its use as a drug and overall it is bad for your health and social wellbeing and the other to maintain domination over a group that is viewed negatively. News reports entering the United States during the Somali civil war showed drug-crazed Somalis, all strung out on Khat, which some argue has created deep rooted stereotypes and false understandings of the effects and usage of Khat by Somali people. These portrayals, some may argue may be the catalyst for legislative prohibition of Khat in the United States, or perhaps it is actually really bad for you.


-Is the prohibition of Khat in the United States just a conflict of cultures, or is there some legitimacy to the strict legislation against it?

-Does a cultural tradition have to be old to be authentic?

-Has the portrayal of Somali militias in Western media (from during the civil war) created a negative atmosphere the breeds adverse stereotypes of the Somali diaspora?

  1. innocentk says:

    Is the prohibition of Khat in the United States just a conflict of cultures, or is there some legitimacy to the strict legislation against it?

    Technically you can say that anything that is legislated under law is legitimate, slavery for instance was considered as a legitimate form of practice at one point. I think the discourse around prohibition of Khat in the United States was largely shaped by the military debacle in Somalia as Klein noted, but I still think it is their right to restrict substances that potentially have harmful effects on the human body from entering their borders

    Does a cultural tradition have to be old to be authentic?

    No, I agree with Klein’s early assertion that it doesn’t necessarily have to be an old traditions to be established as a cultural tradition, which is why I didn’t understand when he stated that “In reality it is but a recent trend, and the conventions and customs necessary to render it socially acceptable have yet to emerge.” This to me seems like he’s back tracking on his original assertion, and is diminishing the traditional significance of Khat within the Somali culture.

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