Khat, a stimulant and social elixir widely used in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, also is known by chat, gat, qat, African salad, Abyssinian tea, and Somali tea, says the Los Angeles Times. Federal drug guidelines say, “There is no legitimate use for khat in the United States.” Agents arrested 14 members of Seattle’s Somali community recently, part of what the Drug Enforcement Administration called a “coordinated takedown” of a 44-person trafficking ring that had smuggled about 25 tons of khat – with an estimated street value of $10 million – from Africa into U.S. cities.
The cases may be clear violations of U.S. drug laws, but among Somali immigrants, reaction has been more complicated. Many insist that the laws are based on a misunderstanding of the role of khat – generally pronounced “cot,” and either chewed or brewed like a tea – in their society. “It is not a drug that makes people crazy or aggressive,” said Ali Abdirazak, 48, a Somali American school counselor. One court-appointed lawyer in Seattle is considering a “cultural defense” for his client. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area is home to a large Somali immigrant population and 14 men arrested in the crackdown. Others were arrested in New York, Boston and Columbus.