Congress Tackles Qat

So I've been battling a cold the last few days, and have been losing. You know- foggy, can't think straight, haven't had the energy to blog. So imagine, if you will, the curative powers that overcame me, as if I were dipped into the healing waters of Warm Springs, when I found out that Congress decided to talk a little about qat. Hallelujiah, indeed.

This was, of course, in the context of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs meeting on Yemen, titled "Yemen on the Brink: Implications for US Policy." There is as of now no transcript or video that I can find, but if anyone has it please send it. If I can get a hold of it we can go over it in more depth. The qat part excites me, but other than that I imagine it will be helpful. On the panel is Chris Boucek, friend of Waq al-Waq and required reading on Yemen, as well af Jeffrey Feltman who impressed me at the Senate hearing, and Bruce Reidel. So I actually do look forward to reading/watching it.

But this...this. Let me drop you a few choice quotes.

Rep. Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, launched the discussion of Yemen’s drug problem in his opening remarks, noting that qat was "a narcotic plant that produces feelings of euphoria and stimulation, but ultimately undermines individual initiative — sort of like being in Congress."

Hilarious quip aside, this is kind of ignorant. Not terribly so, but sort of. I know when in Yemen I actually got most of my best writing done while chewing, as well as had some of my best conversations. And it wasn't a kind of "Uncle Duke at Rolling Stonekind of writing either. So it didn't really undermine initiative.

But enough of Howard Berman, who is, after all, only the chair. Gary Ackerman?

"These people spend the afternoon getting away from reality, getting high…it’s like, wow," Ackerman said.

Ackerman also "mused that Yemen’s drug habit might be undercutting its readiness to sign on to a more forceful campaign against al Qaeda militants within its borders."

Good word choice, Reuters, and I mean that sincerely. "Mused" is far more appropriate to describe this little idea. It works far better than "thought" or "took a few minutes to learn something and then based his opinion on facts", both of which are opposite of what clearly happened.

Look. (You know I mean something when I start imitating the President) Qat is, overall and in the long run, bad for Yemen. It is an incredibly water-hungry crop in a country that is running out of it. But there are a few things to keep in mind here. One is that it grows quickly and provides immediate cash to farmers, who need the money. So people aren't going to stop growing it for long-term rewards when the shot term is, you know, starving to death. So qat actually is somewhat helpful, at least in terms of money changing hands. Of course that only perpetuates the cycle of the immediate, but you can't expect individuals to break that cycle without any institutional help.

But to the broader point: you, Gary Ackerman, know absolutely nothing about qat. People aren't walking around like Fonda and Hopper down the streets of San'a. Qat is a mild stimulant that helps you relax and converse. It doesn't make you flip out, see things, forget about life, wonder if clouds ever argue with each other, drive really slowly or like Phish. To do a stoner impression- and then to imply (muse) that said stoners are too, you know, baked, to worry about al-Qaeda is the height of ignorance, and it is dangerous ignorance when it comes to making policy. All it does is spread fear and misinformation, and make it more likely that we either a) throw our hands in the air in disgust or b)wildly over-react.

The chew is how things get done in much of Yemen. It is how friendships are formed and deals are cemented. It is where people get to trust one another. It is not a druggie coven. Come on, Congress- we've talked about this before, in a post even angrier than this one. What is it going to take for people to stop freaking out when we hear "drugs"?

By the way, I referenced Doonesbury, Phish and Easy Rider in this post. Take that, people who say our pop culture references aren't current!

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