Yemen’s double curse [Archives:2006/943/Viewpoint]

May 4 2006

The recent incident in the Qat market where a man threw a hand grenade after a quarrel has brought to my attention the double curse this country suffers: Qat and weapons. The mass addiction to the Qat plant coupled with the spread of arms among the local citizens causes tragic incidents where people's lives are in threat occasionally. However, the fact is that Yemeni people are not aggressive by nature, otherwise with the long spread of arms and the short arm of law the country would be soaking in blood everyday. Yet this is not a reason why something should not be done to avoid such risk. The irony of this is that there had been a number of unimplemented regulations to control the spread of both. Moreover, many Yemenis who speak against carrying weapons or chewing Qat do them both. This means it is not a matter of legislation nor is it a matter of awareness, as much as it is a matter of enforcement of law and providing the alternative. Yemeni youth argue that if they do not chew Qat then their social life would be non-existent. Others claim that they have nothing better to do because of the lack of social entertainment centers around the country. And obviously the reason people – mostly from tribal areas – attribute to carrying light arms in Yemen is security. Apparently, they believe that they would need to defend themselves against others who in turn are carrying weapons for the same reason and the story goes on.

Traditionally, Yemeni people of the north pride their men in carrying what is called a Jambia. A Jambia is a twisted dagger hung on the waist on a decorated belt worn as a traditional sign of manhood. Young boys can't wait to get their own, but when they do they are not preached on how to use them as a matter of a code of conduct, this is why the use of this weapon often goes wrong. Unfortunately, the concept of manhood has been degraded through the years. Today Yemeni men wear the Jambia along with rifles or pistols without consideration of the consequences. Only rule of law can solve this problem in Yemen, but what if the implementers themselves are happy with the way things are? This is the same for Qat chewing, as majority of Yemeni people; both men and women chew Qat. How then, would this country get out from this double curse? And how many more hand grenades need to be thrown to make our government take this issue more seriously?