Front and back cover caption, volume 29 issue 4

Front cover

Khat to be banned in the UK

Yemeni man chewing khat. Khat is a herbal stimulant that has been chewed recreationally in the Arabian peninsula and in East Africa for centuries, but khat has recently become an object of concern in the UK after ‘khat pubs’, popular with Somali, Yemeni, and Ethiopian immigrants, have sprung up across the country. Against the advice of its own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), the UK government is following countries such as the USA, Canada, and Germany by banning khat. Later this year, the UK will treat khat as a class C drug, making it illegal to supply or possess. This July, the UK home secretary said ‘The decision to bring khat under control is finely balanced and takes into account the expert scientific advice and these broader concerns’. But in response to the government's announcement, Professor David Nutt (chair of the ACMD) retorted, saying ‘Banning khat shows contempt for reason and evidence, disregard for the sincere efforts of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs’, specifically citing khat's ‘relatively low harms’ in his remonstration. In this issue, Ian McGonigle looks at the broader socio-cultural background of khat in Africa and the Middle East, and analyzes the global khat controversy as a complex anthropological problem entangling development economics, public health management, domestic fears of terrorism, and khat-mediated democratic formations.

Back cover

Scapegoating in Burma

A 2013 calendar widely on sale inside Burma in the wake of Aung San Suu Kyi's landmark meeting with Barrack Obama in Rangoon, November 2012. Although the military retain majority control in parliament, media laws have been relaxed and limited reforms include a parliamentary role for Aung San Suu Kyi and her party.

Major violence erupted in May 2012 against the Rohingya, which was to spread to Muslims more generally by the time the two leaders met. Yet Aung San Suu Kyi remained mostly silent on the issue. Is this ‘hermit state’, the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, situated at the intersection between Muslim and Buddhist Asia, and a gateway to India and China, succumbing to irrational fears enflamed by the US-led war on terror?

In this issue, Elliott Prasse-Freeman argues that the Rohingya have become scapegoats for an ill-defined sense of national identity. True, the Burmese army has also attacked many of the ethnic minorities wishing to retain autonomy, including major offensives against the Kachin and the Shan. But the kind of violence against Muslims is of a different kind.

In anticipation of the last free elections in 1960 the army published Dhamma in danger (dhammantaraya) asserting the communist threat to Buddhism, hoping to win the elections. Today, such dangers are projected as coming from Muslim populations interpreted as not rightfully Burmese (the laws require proof of ancestor residence before wholesale immigration began with British conquest in 1823, yet written reference to ‘Rooinga’ occurred as early as 1799).

In a country where fears reign, and with a monastic order not hierarchically controlled, many have fallen for this discourse in a way that the country will come to regret. Whither the saffron revolution and Aung San Suu Kyi's revolution of the spirit?