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A Brief Break From the War

When Greg and I started this blog, we vowed that it wouldn’t be war, terrorism, economic chaos and other depressing things all the time. In this goal we have been: wildly unsuccessful. But today I am going to take a quick little diversion, thanks to the good people at Time magazine, who have an article on Yemen with a title seemingly designed specifically to make me impossibly angry. It proposes a provocative question, “Is Yemen Chewing Itself to Death?”. Veteran Yemen observers know that the pre-ordained answer is contained within the tongue-clicking scold of a question.

But maybe it will be different. After all, this isTime, not, um…People?

By 4 in the afternoon, most men walking the streets of Sana’a are high, or about to get high- not on any sort of manufactured

No. Stop right there. I am not even going to let them finish this sentence. “Most men are high”. Terrifying, right? You can picture them either out rambling, Manson-like, or maybe just sitting and staring, or about to go on a drug fueled violence-binge, or maybe- most ominously- about to indulge in a California Cheeseburger.

The word “high”, used here, is inherently prejudicial and impossibly misleading. As someone who has chewed, nearly every day while over there, I never felt “high” as one does when smoking pot, or indulging recreationally in booze. You feel relaxed, sharp, happy, but not high. I was able to read, get writing done, and engage in conversation that was not of the embarrassing drug variety (“What do trees really think about, man?”). But: ok. I am sure this was just a slip-up, a lead gone wrong. What else does the author have to say?

A khat-addled public is more inclined to complacency about the failings of the government,

Nope. Here again. Khat-addled? Khat-addled? I have never seen anyone addled, and, furthermore, the chew is the one place where the failings of the government are sure to come up. This is insane. This is 180% turned from reality. It is as if the author heard “drug” and then just starting spouting off assumptions about “drugs”. Did he even talk to anyone?

“You sit up discussing all your problems and think you’ve solved everything, but in fact you haven’t done anything in the last four hours, because you’ve just been chewing khat and all your problems actually got worse,” says Adel al-Shujaa, a professor of political science at Sana’a University and the head of the Yemen Without Khat Association. Plus, he says, “all the decisions you’ve made are bad because you’ve made them while on khat.”

OK. I rarely want to criticize Yemenis speaking about their own country, who clearly have a lot more knowledge and experience than I do, but- this is like talking to MAAD about how to make a perfect Manhattan.

Now, the author does talk about the incredible amounts of water sucked up by qat. This I buy, but it is a hard sell- qat is a cash-crop, so it is hard to turn people away from cultivating it, regardless of the long-term consequences. Look at the impossibility of eradicating opium in Afghanistan- and opium doesn’t have the central place in Afghani culture the way qat does in Yemen.

There aren’t really any solutions offered it the piece, but I guess that is fine- it isn’t like we’ve got everything solved on this site. What bugs me though, is the laziness with which we accept that “qat =drug= bad”. I would hardly even call it a drug, even though it is insanely along the lines of a Schedule I drug here in the States (I won’t even get into a libertarian “War on Drugs” thing here- it is just insane that qat is considered that bad). The problem is that it misleads toward assumptions about Yemen and about where it is going- hey, they are high all the time (just like those Somalis, right?), and have no direction, and are way too baked and watching re-runs to care about al-Qaeda sneaking around right behind them!

My point is that ignorance is rarely a good thing when making policy decisions. I know that is controversial, but with the amount of misinformation and lazy assumptions being spread about Yemen, it seems that is a lesson too easily ignored.

I’m still angry. I wish I had some qat.


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