The Partnership for a Drug-Free Somalia


Religious police in areas of Somalia controlled by Islamists are cracking down on tobacco smokers and khat chewers. A couple weeks ago in the port city of Kismayo, they arrested 22 tobacco fiends, who were expected to be flogged upon conviction. I repeat this news at the risk of giving Michael Bloomberg ideas because I was a bit surprised by the targeted drugs, both stimulants that are quite different in their effects from wine, the prohibition of which is the Koranic basis for shunning certain psychoactive substances. Tobacco was widely permitted by Islamic authorities until relatively recently, and they started turning against it because of its health hazards (the same reason Bloomberg condemns it), not because of its resemblance to wine. Khat is commonly used by observant Muslims in places such as Somalia and Yemen, and my impression was that objections to its use were not religious but practical and economic: e.g., that long khat breaks undermine productivity. It sounds like the distraction factor was a concern for Somalia's theocrats, who initially prohibited khat only during Ramadan and later made the ban permanent, calling the plant a bad influence. They seem to be taking a cue from another group of anti-drug fanatics.

[Thanks to Linda Stewart for the tip.]