Opinion: Dutch khat ban smacks of racism

The Dutch government recently announced that it will ban the use of khat, a narcotic leaf widely chewed in the Horn of Africa and Yemen.

I’ve written about khat before. I’ve spent four months in Ethiopia, especially Harar, a city in the eastern part of the country where chewing khat (pronounced “chat” in the local languages) is part of many people’s daily lives. It’s a mild drug that makes most people more relaxed, mildly euphoric, and talkative. It also helps concentration and is popular among university students.

Of course there are side effects. Short-term effects include sleeplessness, constipation, and for some people a listlessness that keeps them from achieving their potential. Long-term use can lead to mental instability and heart trouble. I met one western researcher in Harar who had been there two years. He’d stopped using khat after the first few months because he was afraid of the long-term effects. If I lived in Harar that long I’d stop chewing khat for that very reason.

So the Dutch government seems to have a good reason to ban khat. Or does it? This is a country where marijuana, hash, herbal ecstasy, and psychedelic truffles are all legal. And if we’re talking about long-term health effects, we need to throw in alcohol and tobacco too.

So what’s different about khat? It’s almost exclusively used by the Dutch Somali community, numbering about 25,000 people. According to the BBC, “a Dutch government report cited noise, litter and the perceived public threat posed by men who chew khat as some of the reasons for outlawing the drug.”

Drunks aren’t noisy? Cigarette smokers never litter? The last reason is the most telling: “the perceived public threat posed by men who chew khat.” In other words, black men. In Europe, khat is a black drug, little understood and rarely used by the white population. This ignorance and the fear it generates are the real reasons khat is being banned.

While there are some valid health and social reasons for banning this narcotic plant, they also apply to the narcotic plants white people like to use. But we can’t expect white people in The Netherlands to give up those, can we?


Mexico and borders: No longer a speedy crossing

When I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, heading to Juarez, Mexico for the day was a fun day outing. I didn’t do it often, but at least twice a year we’d walk across the border at El Paso, Texas, have lunch, shop for presents at the market, buy a bottle of Kahlúa and Jose Cuervo and head home. Going across the border was a snap–quick. There was nothing to it. I found the same thing when I went to Tijuana for the day from Los Angeles.

According to this New York Times article, those days are over. It’s taking up to three hours to get back into the United States, even for American citizens. The borders are stopping people more to ask for identification papers in an aim to be ready for January when traveling by car across the borders requires a passport.

As you can imagine this is causing a tourist dollar damper. If you can’t hop over the border and back in an easy trip, there’s no such thing as an easy day outing. Eventually, the system should smooth out, but it’s going to take awhileas in a couple years. The people who are probably going to come out ahead with the slow down are the vendors who sell items from car to car. Thanks to All the Colors who took this picture at the Juarez border crossing and posted it on Flickr.