January 3, 2009

"It is a very touchy subject. Some people see it like a drug; some people see it like coffee."

"You have to understand our background and understand the significance of it in our community."

So says Abdulaziz Kamus, president of the African Resource Center, about khat — a substance that is illegal in the United States legal and popular in East Africa and the Arabian peninsula.

Now, I don't much understand the background and the significance of khat in the community Kamus is talking about, but I understand a lot about the background and community of the United States and its media, so my observation is about the L.A. Times article at the link. I can see what they are up to. They are reframing a drug problem in terms of multiculturalism.

Look at how this article begins with a cozy colorful picture set in "Washington" (which I presume means Washington, D.C., since the 4th paragraph contains the phrase "in cities such as Washington and San Diego"):
In the heart of the Ethiopian community here, a group of friends gathered after work in an office to chew on dried khat leaves before going home to their wives and children. Sweet tea and sodas stood on a circular wooden table between green mounds of the plant, a mild narcotic grown in the Horn of Africa.

As the sky grew darker the conversation became increasingly heated, flipping from religion to jobs to local politics. Suddenly, one of the men paused and turned in his chair. "See, it is the green leaf," he said, explaining the unusually animated discussion as he pinched a few more leaves together and tossed them into his mouth.

For centuries the "flower of paradise" has been used legally in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as a stimulant and social tonic.
See? It's a charming culture. You're not supposed to notice that you could mobilize your writing skills and do PR for any recreational drug like this. You're not supposed to notice that the actual scene is nothing more than some men lolling about having a drug-fueled argument.
But in the United States khat is illegal, and an increased demand for the plant in cities such as Washington and San Diego is leading to stepped up law enforcement efforts and escalating clashes between narcotics officers and immigrants who defend their use of khat as a time-honored tradition....

Increased immigration from countries such as Ethiopia, Yemen and Somalia has fueled the demand in this country and led to a cultural conflict.

"We grew up this way, you can't just cut it off," said a 35-year-old Ethiopian medical technician between mouthfuls of khat as he sat with his friends in the office....
"In my mind, [the arrests are] wrong," said an Ethiopian-born cabdriver who was arrested in November in a Washington, D.C., khat bust and spoke on condition of anonymity. "They act like they know more about khat than I know."
I admit I don't know about your culture's drug, but I know my culture's drug, multiculturalism. The L.A. Times is dealing it here. It is not a stimulant. It is a depressant: It numbs judgment.

So let me pour another cup of coffee and say that I do not want my medical technicians doing drugs in the office and I don't want my cabbie high.

47 comments:

EnigmatiCore said...

So let me pour another cup of coffee and say that I do not want my medical technicians doing drugs in the office and I don't want my cabbie high."

But does making any of them illegal prevent this?

It sure does not seem to be stopping these guys from using khat.

Mr. Smarterthanyou said...

So people from Northern South America should be able to chew coca leaves, and people from the ME get to chew poppy leaves and people from Humbolt county get to smoke pot?

Skyler said...

Very insightful, Ann.

Michael_H said...

"We grew up this way, you can't just cut it off," said a 35-year-old Ethiopian..."

Yes we can. Just like we can cut off the practice of genital mutilation, wife beating, honor murders and other customes immigrants want to bring with them when they come to America.

Our turf, our rules. Get with it or return home.

Ann Althouse said...

"But does making any of them illegal prevent this?"

That's just returning to the "drug problem" frame, which is all I'm trying to do. I don't purport to answer that here. All I want to do is clear out the romantic multicultural bullshit. It's a drug problem. The fact that there is sweet tea on a circular table doesn't tug at my heart strings.

Oligonicella said...

Michael_H --

"Yes we can. Just like we can cut off the practice of genital mutilation, wife beating, honor murders and other customes immigrants want to bring with them when they come to America."

Yes, because liquor, tobacco, caffeine, pot, khat and so forth are the moral equivalent of genital mutilation, wife beating, honor murders and such. Dick.

"Our turf, our rules. Get with it or return home."

Not even everyone here agrees the rules (imposed in the last half of the last century) are good ones.

Althouse --

"So let me pour another cup of coffee and say that I do not want my medical technicians doing drugs in the office and I don't want my cabbie high."

Agreed. Why give a crap about when they're home?

Michael_H said...

All I want to do is clear out the romantic multicultural bullshit. It's a drug problem.

Exactly right. Substitute 'heroin' for 'khat' and the romantic multicultural bullshit evaporates. Sweet tea or no sweet tea.

Paul Zrimsek said...

I, too, prefer my medical technicians and cabbies drunk.

Kev said...

I thought khat-blogging had kind of gone out of style lately... ;-)

Michael_H said...

Not even everyone here agrees the rules (imposed in the last half of the last century) are good ones.

Really? So you favor (or support those who favor) wife beating, genital mutilation and honor killings?

Not everyone has to agree with rules in order for those rules to be good. In fact, good rules are often good just because a fringe disagrees with them in the first place. Otherwise rules would have not purpose. And society would have no order.

John Burgess said...

Just to correct a factual error in the original newspaper article...

Khat (qat) is not legal in any of the Arabian Peninsular countries except Yemen, where it is becoming frowned upon.

In Yemen, though, it is a deeply ingrained cultural practice. It's nearly impossible to visit a Yemeni home or office without being offered qat as to do otherwise would be seen as an insult.

EDH said...

"As the sky grew darker the conversation became increasingly heated, flipping from religion to jobs to local politics. Suddenly, one of the men paused and turned in his chair. "See, it is the green leaf," he said, explaining the unusually animated discussion as he pinched a few more leaves together and tossed them into his mouth."

I noticed this about Cocaine during the 1980s. Certain drugs seem to make their users think what they have to say is more interesting and profound while under the influence.

Kind of like, er, visting Althouse.

(kidding, kidding)

Pogo said...

Dalrymple covers it quite well. A sampling:

"Human affairs cannot be decided by an appeal to an infallible rule, expressible in a few words, whose simple application can decide all cases, including whether drugs should be freely available to the entire adult population.
...
It might be argued that the freedom to choose among a variety of intoxicating substances is a much more important freedom and that millions of people have derived innocent fun from taking stimulants and narcotics. But the consumption of drugs has the effect of reducing men’s freedom by circumscribing the range of their interests. It impairs their ability to pursue more important human aims, such as raising a family and fulfilling civic obligations. Very often it impairs their ability to pursue gainful employment and promotes parasitism. Moreover, far from being expanders of consciousness, most drugs severely limit it. One of the most striking characteristics of drug takers is their intense and tedious self-absorption; and their journeys into inner space are generally forays into inner vacuums. Drug taking is a lazy man’s way of pursuing happiness and wisdom, and the shortcut turns out to be the deadest of dead ends. We lose remarkably little by not being permitted to take drugs.

...It is therefore perfectly possible that the demand for drugs, including opiates, would rise dramatically were their price to fall and their availability to increase. And if it is true that the consumption of these drugs in itself predisposes to criminal behavior (as data from our clinic suggest), it is also possible that the effect on the rate of criminality of this rise in consumption would swamp the decrease that resulted from decriminalization. We would have just as much crime in aggregate as before, but many more addicts.
...
If the war against drugs is lost, then so are the wars against theft, speeding, incest, fraud, rape, murder, arson, and illegal parking. Few, if any, such wars are winnable. So let us all do anything we choose.

...if the use of narcotics and stimulants were to become virtually universal, as is by no means impossible, the number of situations in which compulsory checks upon people would have to be carried out, for reasons of public safety, would increase enormously. Pharmacies, banks, schools, hospitals—indeed, all organizations dealing with the public—might feel obliged to check regularly and randomly on the drug consumption of their employees. The general use of such drugs would increase the locus standi of innumerable agencies, public and private, to interfere in our lives; and freedom from interference, far from having increased, would have drastically shrunk.

The present situation is bad, undoubtedly; but few are the situations so bad that they cannot be made worse by a wrong policy decision."

EDH said...

I won't go schitzo, will I ?

Professor Althouse, can I buy some khat from you?

(The off-campus faculty atmospherics of this scene alone make it one of the funniest in film.)

Original George said...

Qat Terms:

Marduf: twine wrapped bundles
Gaagit: The best qat, soft with long lasting potency
Gisi: Second best
Laari: Lowest quality

All I see is little dots.

Chip Ahoy said...

I'm completely 100% of unsympathetic to this entire point of view. My reasoning is just as wearisome and uninteresting as these people and the writers at the LA Times. The difference is, I win, and those losers lose.

On the other hand, I've had the most interesting conversations with foreign nationals recently immigrated, and experienced a deep level of cooperation with them whenever we've come into contact, which admittedly isn't all that frequent. I do believe our culture is enriched and invigorated by their presence.

rcocean said...

I love our immigrants and the fascinating new drugs they bring.

Original George said...

Yemeni dudes wear tartan skirts, suit jackets, and stuff daggers into their waistbands. They also like to carry guns and flutes.

They got a heavy fashion thing happening in the Hadhramaut.

And folks live in mud skyscrapers.

Seven Machos said...

I'm going to go to Ethiopia and do illegal stuff, then bitch about how Ethiopians don't understand my culture and have no right telling me what to do just because Ethiopia's government has sovereign authority to make law in Ethiopia.

Do you think that a local newspaper will write a charming, pro-Seven Machos article?

EnigmatiCore said...

"All I want to do is clear out the romantic multicultural bullshit."

I am all for that.

"It's a drug problem."

It is a drug. Not sure I see a problem, though, yet. It does not strike me like heroin or meth. On the job or behind the wheel intoxication are problems, but the problem there is not with the drug of choice, be it alcohol or whatever, but instead with the decision of what to do after partaking.

Geoff Matthews said...

So let me pour another cup of coffee and say that I do not want my medical technicians doing drugs in the office and I don't want my cabbie high.

What's the difference between the buzz from coffee and the buzz from khat?

Having used neither, I honestly don't know.

Original George said...

Qat won't qatch on here. You have to get it fresh, as its potency rapidly deqlines as the plant withers. That's why it's flown in daily to Yemen from Africa. (It's delivered like FedEx there.) Plus, you gotta sit around qhewing the stuff for a while. Then--ptooey! And you veg.

"Advoqates of qat qontend that Yemenis are not lazy, there is just not enough work to be done."

William said...

I see cigarette smokers huddled outside office buildings during sleet storms. They look perfectly miserable, and you just know they're going to give them up. Cigarette smoking is dying faster than cigarette smokers....If Americans can be adaptable to changing mores why can't Ethiopians.

Paul said...

Seems to me someone needs to try some in order to determine if it's relatively innocuous like coffee or a more potent intoxicant. Otherwise we just have a lot of ignorant ranting.

And how come the most deadly (in terms of health, accidents, crimes under the influence, etc.) inebriant is legal?

It seems to be rather hypocritical that someone who drinks alcohol gets all worked up over someone's khat or pot habit.

EnigmatiCore said...

"What's the difference between the buzz from coffee and the buzz from khat?

Having used neither, I honestly don't know."

Haven't used khat, but coffee provides no buzz. None.

Synova said...

Some cultures consider dogs tasty.

Why don't we go with that one?


(Disclaimer: It doesn't bother me if someone wants to eat a dog, but it should be killed quickly, as should any animal that is butchered. I also tend toward a libertarian view of the "drug war" while viewing recreational drugs as destructive.)

Andy said...

While this doesn't address your point about multiculturalism, it is worth pointing out that Khat has another side effect: giving the government headaches.

Khat has two main functional components: cathinone (a psycotropic stimulant) and cathine (a less potent stimulant). Cathinone is a Category I (most serious category) prohibited drug according to the Federal Government as well as most (if not all) states. Cathine is a Schedule IV drug (much less dangerous and hence less severe penalties).

But according to state and federal law, khat by itself is not a prohibited substance.

As Khat ages (or if it subjected to physical processes like drying out), the cathinone (quite rapidly) degrades into cathine. So a khat drinker could get anything from a heavy trip-like buzz to a mild caffeine-like jolt, depending on the cathinone-cathine ratio in the khat.

As per the above, here are some recent court decisions which attest to this chemical interplay:

GEBREEGZIABH V. ASHCROFT (Fourth Circuit, 2004), which held that you have to test the khat for cathinone (as simple possession of untested khat is not a deportable felony).

Samatar v. Clarridge (Sixth Circuit, 2007), which held that if you do test for Cathinone, that's all that matters- it doesn't matter if the test results are likely inaccurate (in this case, Khat with a 100% cathinone content, which is scientifically improbable, if not impossible.)

And there is also Minnesota V. Mohamed Galony Ali, et al. (State of Minnesota, 1998), which held that all you need to do is test for the presence and amount of cathinone (you need not show that the cathinone is sufficiently potent).

Yet there is also a case in New York (appeals are pending) in which a khat prosecution was dismissed on the basis of the khat vs. cathinone discrepancy (holding that the person importing khat needs to know the cathinone presence to be charged with the crime) and which questioned the accuracy of the existing khat tests.

See here.

Sipping sweet tea on a table may not pull on your heartstrings, but I'm sure unclear laws and conflicting rulings (as a result of the murkiness) will.

Palladian said...

The major active component of Khat is cathinone, an alkaloid similar to various amphetamines. Caffeine is also an alkaloid, but of a very different type with a very different mechanism of action. It would take a dangerously high dose of caffeine to produce even vaguely similar effects as cathinone. The comparison of coffee with khat isn't really apt. Better to compare it with something like MDMA, the drug that it apparently resembles in effect.

Freeman Hunt said...

It's also insulting to Ethiopians to act like this drug use is so inherent in their culture that an Etheiopian immigrant couldn't possibly go without it. I had a good friend from Ethiopia. He never mentioned this drug. He didn't do any drugs at all as far as I could tell.

A drug addict from another country is still just another drug addict.

ricpic said...

They can smoke khat, but only inside those ritual foot baths the gummint is building at my expense.

chickenlittle said...

Palladian said: The comparison of coffee with khat isn't really apt.

Perhaps their tongue just twisted over the word cathine. What's little-beta hydrogen amongst friends anyway?

Too much of anything leaves me catatonic.

PatCA said...

"Do you think that a local newspaper will write a charming, pro-Seven Machos article?"

No, Seven, they would write a story about your execution, if they had a newspaper to write that story in.

Original George said...

We weqt to a middle qlass house where there weqe about 10 loqal men, and sat in a qoom around a low table covered with rugs: a pile of twigs covered with leaves, and a qup were already laiq out by each place. I was proudly told that the leaves were top khuality, and was instructed what to do.

I piqked a few leaves, qhewed them to a pulp, then transferred the puqp to my left qheek and suqked the almost tasteless juice. The proqess was repeated over the next qouple of hours while my qheek got fatter and fatter. A mansqrvant qame round regularly to fill our qups with weak tea. There were hookahs in the middle of the table, and I took turns in inhalqng the tobaqqo smoke.

The main effeqt on me was insensibility to the passage of time. When the party ended, upon the arrival of a person from Porloqk bearing a telegram, after about three qours and we spat out the leaves, my qolleague and I went to the hammam with the water heated by burning bulloqks' qeads that were stored in piles outside--but that is another story--I thought that barely an hour had paqsed.

I was euphoriq, very wide awake, extremely friendly, and talkative with a free flow of ideas, but afterwards qould remember little of the qonversation. My mouqh was dry, henqe the need for much fluid. The effeqts wore off after about an qour.

blake said...

Pogo,

How does that argument not apply to alcohol?

Danny said...

Interestingly, the LATimes failed to talk to any women from East Africa or Yemen. They've been fighting qat since the very beginning. Multiculturalism is neither the solution nor the problem here.

Paul Zrimsek said...

I get no qiq from champaqne.

DeepThought said...

Not everyone has to agree with rules in order for those rules to be good. In fact, good rules are often good just because a fringe disagrees with them in the first place. Otherwise rules would have not purpose. And society would have no order.

I disagree a "fringe" disagrees with the drug laws, unless you include persons like William F. Buckley and others who believe that drug use is an infringement on personal autonomy. Indeed, as with the rise of organized crime during Prohibition, American drug laws have given rise to transnational criminal organizations which have corrupted governments and regions around the world (Southwest Asia, Mexico, Southeast Asia, Italy, Colombia, Bolivia, etc.), the violence of which are now infiltrating the US (the LA Times has done a excellent series of articles on the drug war in Mexico and how it is leaking into the US.) The Mexican cartels have even infiltrated the US Embassy. In fact, the war in Afghanistan is basically being financed by drug cartels, so in reality the US is financing the war we are fighting. The benefit of current drug laws is tiny compared to destruction of entire societies, which will eventually include the US.

IMHO, if someone wants to ruin their life through drug addiction, fine go ahead, I don't care. While there will be societal costs to your addiction, treating it as medical problem is far cheaper than a law enforcement/military problem. There are already laws against driving, operating machinery, or showing up at work drunk. There is no reason the same laws can't be applied to other drugs. By making khat illegal, the US is taking on another unsolvable problem that does very little harm to society.

YahayZekaria said...

Ms. Althouse, you are not drinking enough coffee for Ethiopian farmers to plant more coffee trees. According to Oxfam report they are ripping off the coffee trees and replacing it with khat plants.

“Failure by the world's biggest coffee companies to address the coffee price collapse is forcing thousands of farmers across Ethiopia into poverty. With few alternatives, many farmers are ripping out their coffee plants and replacing them with chat, a drug banned in the US, said international agency Oxfam today.”

http://www.oxfamamerica.org/newsandpublications/press_releases/archive2003/art6608.html

It is not about multiculturalism, it is about data and facts about the impact of drugs in the United States of America. I am not comparing American culture to African ones. However, let us look at Census bureau report on impact of tobacco and alcohol has in our community.

"The leading causes of death in 2000 were tobacco (435,000 deaths; 18.1% of total US deaths), poor diet and physical inactivity (400,000 deaths; 16.6%), and alcohol consumption (85,000 deaths; 3.5%). Other actual causes of death were microbial agents (75,000), toxic agents (55,000), motor vehicle crashes (43,000), incidents involving firearms (29,000), sexual behaviors (20,000), and illicit use of drugs (17,000)."

http://drugwarfacts.org/cms/?q=node/30

sirpatrick said...

"I admit I don't know about your culture's drug, but I know my culture's drug, multiculturalism. The L.A. Times is dealing it here. It is not a stimulant. It is a depressant: It numbs judgment"

I'm not smart enough to know whether this paragraph reflects allegory, metaphor, or simile but, I do know I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Bibliophile said...

"But does making any of them illegal prevent this?"

No, but it prevents huge billboards encouraging people to consume khat

Edgehopper said...

All this, and no one's posted the most important thing about khat:

When spelled "qat", it's the shortest word containing a "Q" acceptable for official Scrabble play, making it very useful for players stuck with a Q and no U in the endgame.

Curtis said...

So they like it and have used it for centuries as they and their culture built their shining cities on the hill as a beacon to all kinds of worthless drug abusing dirtbags.

Kick them back to the shitholes they crawled out of and let them continue to use their drugs of choice in their home country.

comatus said...

"Cigarette smoking is dying faster than cigarette smokers....If Americans can be adaptable to changing mores why can't Ethiopians."

After a 40-year political campaign, the number of smokers is down from 30% to 20%. Enjoy your triumph, but don't dismount that chariot just yet.

One thing is certain: quaint addictions of foreigners will forever get more slack than the bad habits that made this country great. We're all perfectible, if only the right people are making the mores.

M. Simon said...

Yeah I hate multiculturalism too.

What is wrong with a culture that hates alcohol and loves khat? There is obviously something wrong with those people. We need to round them up and punish them severely.

Because drugs are bad m'kay? Except the ones authorized by our benevolent leaders who for sure know best.

==

1691 In Luneberg, Germany, the penalty for smoking (tobacco) is death.

==

1852 The American Pharmaceutical Association is founded. The association's 1856 constitution lists one of its goals as: "To as much as possible restrict the dispensing and sale of medicines to regularly educated druggists and apothecaries."

They are now in the fortunate position of having the Federal Government enforce their desired monopoly.

We have come a long way baby.

M. Simon said...

Schizophrenia and Tobacco

Them schizophrenics need to be taxed until they become sane. It is the moral thing to do. And we Americans are a most moral people.

Hector Owen said...

I think I preferred this part of that Dalrymple essay ("Don't Legalize Drugs")quoted by Pogo:

"The argument is that the overwhelming majority of the harm done to society by the consumption of currently illicit drugs is caused not by their pharmacological properties but by their prohibition and the resultant criminal activity that prohibition always calls into being. Simple reflection tells us that a supply invariably grows up to meet a demand; and when the demand is widespread, suppression is useless. Indeed, it is harmful, since-by raising the price of the commodity in question-it raises the profits of middlemen, which gives them an even more powerful incentive to stimulate demand further. The vast profits to be made from cocaine and heroin-which, were it not for their illegality, would be cheap and easily affordable even by the poorest in affluent societies-exert a deeply corrupting effect on producers, distributors, consumers, and law enforcers alike. Besides, it is well known that illegality in itself has attractions for youth already inclined to disaffection. Even many of the harmful physical effects of illicit drugs stem from their illegal status: for example, fluctuations in the purity of heroin bought on the street are responsible for many of the deaths by overdose. If the sale and consumption of such drugs were legalized, consumers would know how much they were taking and thus avoid overdoses.

"Moreover, since society already permits the use of some mind-altering substances known to be both addictive and harmful, such as alcohol and nicotine, in prohibiting others it appears hypocritical, arbitrary, and dictatorial. Its hypocrisy, as well as its patent failure to enforce its prohibitions successfully, leads inevitably to a decline in respect for the law as a whole. Thus things fall apart, and the center cannot hold.

"It stands to reason, therefore, that all these problems would be resolved at a stroke if everyone were permitted to smoke, swallow, or inject anything he chose. The corruption of the police, the luring of children of 11 and 12 into illegal activities, the making of such vast sums of money by drug dealing that legitimate work seems pointless and silly by comparison, and the turf wars that make poor neighborhoods so exceedingly violent and dangerous, would all cease at once were drug taking to be decriminalized and the supply regulated in the same way as alcohol."

Though the excursion into public displays of necrophilia was, er, really disturbing.

Also, sample bias. Dalrymple was a writing about heroin addicts he had encountered in his work as a prison psychiatrist and at methadone clinics, in England, where arrest for simple possesion is less likely that in the US. An English addict would be more likely to be arrested for a crime more malum in se in nature, robbery for instance.

In the same essay:

"The importation of the mildly stimulant khat is legal in Britain, and a large proportion of the community of Somali refugees there devotes its entire life to chewing the leaves that contain the stimulant, miring these refugees in far worse poverty than they would otherwise experience. The reason that the khat habit has not spread to the rest of the population is that it takes an entire day’s chewing of disgustingly bitter leaves to gain the comparatively mild pharmacological effect. The point is, however, that once the use of a stimulant becomes culturally acceptable and normal, it can easily become so general as to exert devastating social effects. And the kinds of stimulants on offer in Western cities—cocaine, crack, amphetamines—are vastly more attractive than khat." Evidently the Somalis Dalrymple knew were getting khat that was not fresh enough to retain its cathinione.

HeatherRadish said...

When spelled "qat", it's the shortest word containing a "Q" acceptable for official Scrabble play

They updated the list in 2006. The shortest Q word is now QI.