Theresa May – khat(ban)woman

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Well, Theresa May has pulled another shit idea out of her seemingly bottomless bag. Proving that she not only has no idea about the young people in this country, she has now managed to alienate the Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian communities too. Ignoring her advisors and their indepth research, which indicates that khat use is neither significantly dangerous to meet illicit criteria, nor on the increase, the daft old bat has decided that, yes, it should definitely be illegal.

Khat (a phonetic spelling of a word that basically sounds like ‘cat’) is a plant that, when chewed over a long period of time, produces a mild stimulant effect. An integral part of the community in Somalia, Yemen and Ethiopia, it helps people working long hours stay up, and is primarily used socially.

In the communities I have worked in, there has been a small amount of problematic use, and the head of the London Somali Youth Forum claims that young people are also starting to use the drug. However, when we consider that many of the Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian people living in this country arrived here seeking asylum after fleeing their war-torn motherlands, having witnessed some fairly grim atrocities and then landing here at possibly not the best time to be a Muslim, I don’t think we can be too hard on them for using the drug in a slightly different manner than they would have done in their homelands, where use is unproblematic.

In terms of the social context, to me it stinks of oppression and racism. It’s worse than the Americans labelling Mexicans as mentally-deranged marajuana users, worse even than them labelling black Americans as crack users – because the plot there was to over-associate a widely-used drug to criminalise a specific population. Khat, in comparison, is pretty much only used by these communities – so from where I’m standing, this is out-and-out racial oppression.

Let’s draw a comparison. Imagine that the South of England invades the North. (It can only be a matter time, really – the BBC have already started.) A civil war ensues, killing thousands and displacing many thousands more. Some pretty nasty things take place, everyone is affected – both the Northerners who see their homes and families destroyed, and the Southerners who lose their fathers and sons in the fighting. Eventually many people have no choice but to evacuate to Ireland.

Now the Irish aren’t too keen on the English, for some reason. They begrudgingly offer them asylum, but they don’t want the English to feel too at home, or too equal. So they take from them the one thing that helps them cope, the one familiarity that brings people together and unites their communities, the thing that they sit down to with family, friends and neighbours when times are hard – the good old cup of tea. The Irish make caffeine illegal. And the English cry. (I know the Irish love it too – but just humour me for the span of this brief analogy.)

Now caffeine is addictive. It can be misused. In fact, in the 80s the World Health Organisation recommended that caffeine should be banned, because of the huge number of people presenting to GPs with headaches, migraines and anxiety problems resulting from excessive use. When we are upset or tired, we tend to drink more of it. Something bad happens – sit down, I’ll put the kettle on. Something needs discussing – come on, let’s go for a coffee. Imagine the social impact we English would experience if caffeine was removed from our culture.

And, likely as not, instead of having a cuppa or meeting for a coffee, we would go to the pub. In times of trauma and displacement, we English would need each other, to remember our old lives, and to help heal the wounds of war. And without a cuppa, what would we go for..? A run? A bath? I think not – we would go for a pint.

So I am suggesting, Theresa, you silly sausage / evil Aryan witch (delete as you see fit), that this policy might not be one of your best. I can’t imagine that the Somali youth are going to take up badminton instead. And at least this is a habit they can share with their parents and get useful advice on, instead of taking up something that alienates them from their heritage and no-one has any useful information about – like MCat.

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