Many Americans first became familiar with qat (or khat) during the First Gulf War in 1991. It is a drug which is grown in leaf form in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula, and is widely chewed by users throughout the region. It is a stimulant, and is used both socially and as an aid to alertness while working.
The active ingredient in qat is similar in its properties to the amphetamines, and has similar effects. Like the amphetamines, it is addictive, and prolonged or extreme use can lead to delusions, hallucinations, erratic behavior, and various physical disorders.
During the Gulf War (and later in Somalia) some American servicemen picked up a qat habit and brought it home with them, so it became an issue that the Pentagon was concerned about. The DEA lists qat as a Class I narcotic.
And now Sweden has a growing qat problem. Paul, who lives in Sweden, brings to our attention this editorial from the Swedish television network SVT. He says:
You might find this one interesting, I just found it while sending you this email. This is an example of Sweden and EU society ignoring cultural differences and turning a blind eye to a serious problem.
Classifying the drug qat as a Vegetable in Holland and the Britain is a little off the wall. It is not like we have restaurants that are offering qat salads. Qat salad to me sounds more like a Southeast Asian entrée…
And now for his translation of the editorial:
Few people have heard about it, but all you have to do is take the subway to Tensta or Rinkeby torg [two ghetto suburbs of Stockholm] to buy a bundle, or a marduf. No, it is not some exotic fruit from one of the merchants its a dose of Qat, a.k.a. Khat (Catha edulis), a plant that is classified a narcotic in Sweden, in appearance it resembles a water lily. It contains a central nervous system stimulant similar to amphetamines, and it is addictive. Over half of the adult Somali men in Sweden are said to be addicts at various levels and lately it has become more common among women and young people. The addiction is also known among Ethiopians and Kenyans. As Qat belongs to the cultural traditions in East Africa, few regard it as a narcotic.
By courier on regular flights, by car and by boat, the leaves are imported from Holland and Great Britain — where it is classified as a vegetable — it is then sold on our streets and squares in the suburbs. The customs service is confiscating over five tons of Qat each year, but this is only a tenth of the total import.
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Very few are given long prison sentences and almost none of the addicts are prosecuted. The authorities cannot do more then this as the law today for major narcotics possession of Qat specifies 400 kg!
This is a slap in the face for the organizations that work against the use of Qat. The drug is allowed on the streets and a lot of Somalis do not even know it is forbidden to chew Qat in Sweden.
Why haven’t the politicians dealt with this sooner? That is a question that more people are beginning to ask. Despite massive efforts from Somali associations, who for over twenty years have tried to get our politicians to open their eyes to this problem, it is going very slow.
In the meantime the abuse is increasing and going further down in age groups and more children are growing up under hard conditions with poverty (large parts of the family’s income goes to support the father’s addiction) and lack of good role models.