by Abukaw Awale (qaad–diid )
Tuesday, July 02, 2013
In response to the recent press release dated 28/06/13 by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, I agree that it would be beneficial for the government to also accept evidence of scientific and social harm that khat use causes. However, I wholeheartedly disagree with the recommendation of the ISCD in their assertion that the government is mistaken in their desire to outlaw the sale and use of khat in the United Kingdom. For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with khat, it is an intoxicant containing amphetamine that is consumed in leaf form by predominantly Somali communities in Britain. Other east African communities also are associated with its recreational use, but to a lesser extent. Not being as well versed as Professor Nutt and Dr Williams of the ISCD in the realms of chemistry or pharmacology, in this letter, I will attempt to explain the personal harm that my own use of khat has caused myself and by extension, by immediate family and dependents. My personal experience with the drug is unfortunately all too common with others the length and breadth of Somalia and has been so for generations.
My scientific credentials compared to the two aforementioned academics are non-existent. But as I understand it, cathine and cathinone are both currently illegal in the UK yet both chemicals are found in khat which has somehow maintained its legal status over the years. To the layperson such as myself, you could see why this is confusing. When cathine and cathinone were classified as illegal substances, I assume that this was on the recommendation of the Advisory Council for Misuse of Drugs, the very same ACMD that is now calling for khat to remain legal. If indeed this was the case, it would perhaps again make sense that khat, or catha edulis, to use its scientific name, should be banned by default purely by virtue of the fact that two previously banned substances are found in khat. Again, not being a scientist you could see why it would be difficult for the likes of myself to discern this.
But I recently heard an Arab proverb from a middle eastern friend of mine that struck a chord with me:"Is'al almujarrib wa laa tas'al ad- dabiib" which loosely translates as follows: "Ask the user, not the doctor". By that I mean that I assume neither Messrs Nutt nor Williams have consumed khat to anywhere near the extent that I have, if at all. If my assumption is correct, they would therefore have no personal experience of the physiological, psychological and social harms that I subjected myself to whilst being under the influence of khat or in the presence of others under its grip. They would also be unaware of the sleep deprivation and near psychosis caused by its prolonged use, nor of the continued suppressed appetite and hallucinating to name a few of the effects. Khat addiction nearly cost me my life as I was stabbed in the stomach by another khat addict while we were both under the influence over a trivial argument. You can imagine the impact this had on my wife and young children at the time. Perhaps Professor Nutt would like to pay a few more attention to human stories as well as conducting laboratory experiments to really understand what khat is all about.
What really concerns me about Professor Nutt's analysis are some recent statements he made. According to the BBC, Sky News and the Guardian newspaper, he was quoted in October 2009 incredulously claiming that the drug ecstasy was less harmful than horse riding because fewer people died using ecstasy than there were horse riding fatalities. Professor Nutt also lobbied against the ban of meow-meow stating that the deaths that it caused were insufficient evidence to warrant its banning in the UK. I do not know anything about Professor Nutt's personal life, but I hope and pray that if he has children, he cannot seriously mean that he considers horse riding more dangerous for them than the drug ecstasy. I also sincerely hope that he would do everything in his power to prevent his children or young members of his family from ever getting their hands on meow-meow. When these utterances are viewed in the light of him being sacked as a drugs adviser by the former Home Office Minister, Alan Johnson for having no confidence in him, it also becomes difficult to have confidence in his position regarding khat. One does begin to wonder what drug, if any, Professor Nutt does consider harmful.
The ISCD letter also states that "responsible users of khat will be justified in feeling discriminated against." First of all, in Somali culture, the idea of a responsible user of khat is something of a contradiction in terms. People who are known to consume it are generally barred from public office or official appointment. To quote to current President of the Somali Republic, His Excellency Hassan Sheikh Mahmood, khat is what he described as "aafo qaran" or a catastrophe of national proportions. He also stated on Channel 4 news as recently as May 2013 that he fully agreed with the proposal to ban khat in the UK as its consumption had largely incapacitated the Somali community to positively contribute to wider British society. The ISCD seems to believe that banning khat will be discriminatory against the Somali community in Britain but this sidesteps the petition I delivered to the Home Office with over 70,000 signatures from our community calling on the government to ban khat outright. If the ISCD feels that we are being discriminated against in this matter, why does it conveniently ignore the voices of the community that it affects? Sure we can speak on our own behalf.
Dr Tim Williams briefly mentions that Theresa May is being pressured by the US government to adopt their drugs policy. For an independent drugs tsar, it could be argued that offering his views on US-UK inter-governmental relations may be considered beyond his remit. But when the vast majority of the western world has made khat illegal, including most recently Holland (one of the most permissive countries with regard to the use of recreational drugs) one must ask if the more appropriate question should be: why is Britain the last remaining country in the EU where khat is still legal and why are we out of step with much of the civilized world on this matter? In banning khat, I'm sure that the numerous other nations did not make this decision on a whim; rather, it was made on the basis of purely empirical evidence of scientific and social harm. But then, do Professor Nutt and Dr Williams therefore consider themselves to be the world's leading experts in this field and that we should therefore discard the voluminous evidence to the contrary? Forgive me if I have got the wrong end of the stick.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate my support for the purported impending banning of khat in the UK. I strongly believe that this would be beneficial to the Somali community and I can confidently say that the vast majority of my community will agree with this point of view. If you were to ask any Somali in any part of the world for the main reasons of our decline, I am almost certain that khat would be either at or near the top of everyone's lists. After all, our serving President stated as much in his recent Channel 4 interview. My concern however is the plight of khat's innocent victims, invariably women and young children who do not consume it but are indirectly harmed by the debilitating effects it has on people who should be their role models and breadwinners. I have every confidence that if this ban comes into place, success stories of ex-users will be the norm rather than the exception. Speaking from experience, I am sure that khat users would love the opportunity to contribute to their families' well being. It is my conviction that banning khat in this country will allow us as Somalis to positively contribute to the UK in a way that we have previously been unable to. I reiterate my calls on the government to fulfil their pledges to ban khat in the United Kingdom bringing us in line with the vast majority of the international community on this issue.
Abukaw Awale ( qaad –diid )
The Lead anti -khat Campaigner