ReflectionsAbu Gharib prison scandal & Yemen’s salts of manhood [Archives:2004/735/Opinion]

May 6 2004

By Yahya Al-Olfi
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Before I speak about the Salts of Manhood I would like to refer to the recent uproar about the American scandal concerning the humiliating treatment of the Iraqi prisoners in Abu Gharib Prison and possibly in other Iraqi prisons. I extremely condemn such disgraceful acts which were monstrously committed by the American occupying soldiers, who by such acts have only offered free service and fuel for Bin Laden and his henchmen.
I do greet endlessly the American Media coverage despite the fact of being mostly pro-Israel, for their courage in the disclosure of such repulsive acts, which might lead hopefully to a George Bush eventual failure in the upcoming elections.
Such courage and professionalism cannot be rivaled nor seen any where in the Arab world where there are many political prisoners, who are being subjected to the same monstrous actions and even worse. Arab countries' prisons are brimming with such horrors. One must not be surprised to notice that all the Arab Media are merely referring to this American scandal without daring the least to mention any of such horrors in any of the Arab countries where most prisoners are annihilated or if they are ever lucky do get out after many years have past and they have already lost their wits.
Saddam, for example, used to cut Iraqi men's ears, tongues and noses behind prison walls. If they were to speak, those prisoners would have told tales of horrible incidents.
Maybe this time, the Americans wanted to show Iraqis a different American version! Women prisoners at the time of Saddam for example were tortured and their labia majoris extirpated. Unfortunately, due to Saddam's policies who for a long time used to be America's closest friend – as are many Arab leaders nowadays – led many Iraqis to even look for the 'greater devil' – As Khomeini used to call the US – so as to get rid of a catastrophe named “Saddam” and now after the devil has replaced Saddam they are complaining from that whom they thought was their savior.
Many Iraqis were in fact coerced to welcome the Americans due to their thirty years of continued oppression. Pro-American Iraqis are now ashamed of what took place and cannot justify it to their followers. It would seem that the American occupation of Iraq has until now sent to the Arab leaders and their people three messages: 1) Obey us or you shall be doomed like Saddam. 2) Bribe us and kneel for us and we shall consider bygones be bygones as is the case with the Libyan Leader or 3) Let us occupy your land and we shall show you miracles, similar to those perpetrated in Abu Gharib and other prisons in Iraq.
Having spoken about Iraq, I would like to speak a bit about unhealthy habits practiced in Yemen and how our government represented by the Health Ministry does not exert any efforts whatsoever to address them. Nowadays fierce campaigns are being waged against smoking due to the detrimental. The dangers included and are not limited to myocardial infarction, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, lung cancer, bronchitis, asthma, ulcer of the stomach, duodenal ulcer, a diabetes risk factor, brain damage, damage to the neurological system and to the whole body functions.
Airline companies have stopped offering places for smokers. In most developed countries, smoking spaces in restaurants and public utilities have been largely cancelled. In Europe and North America, practical measures have been taken in order to limit and get rid of this bad habit.
On the other hand in Yemen, our ministry of health still says it is none of its business and hence most Yemenis gleefully smoke cigarettes, hubble-bubble, tobacco pipes, Sniffs, etc. Unfortunately this is not limited to men but women recently are taking up with men. Women tend to purchase small shaped ornamented hubble-bubbles (shisha) with lots of different flavored tobaccos. Smoking in Yemen is intensifying due to the habit of Chewing Qat, which is considered by most countries -Britain not one of them – of the world a narcotic herb.
In order to have Qat always available, farmers are obliged to use different chemicals. The Chemicals used have been found to cause queasiness, nervousness, Mouth Rash, hyper secretion of Saliva, Colic, Diarrhea and headaches. Yet the Ministry of Health did little about it. Later on, after some years have passed, a new stage of fatal diseases appear in the form of Maxillo-facial Carcinomas, Gastric Cancers, Renal Failures, Cirrhosis and heart attacks. Popular culture in Yemen calls for more chewing and more smoking, as the more you chew Qat and the more you smoke, the more you are respected, to the extent that they call such bad habits “Salts of Manhood”.
So in order to be a normal Yemeni Man you have to chew Qat and consume tobacco and in order to increase the effect of tobacco, the rooms where chewing and smoking takes place have their windows closed.
I am truly surprised why in Yemen, people tend to imitate bad habits such as smoking and do not try to imitate positive behaviors such as hard work, honesty, transparency, perseverance, setting high goals and pursuing them, making the right choices, helping each other and most importantly to cease once and for all the ongoing pilferage of public funds in Authorities, Ministries and all governmental institutions without an exception.