Sure, it was a laughing matter when Syria banned Facebook, YouTube and the Tuque Souq, but this time the joke has gone too far. Banning the Hookah?!
The Syrian government--i.e. President Bashar al-Asad and the angel and devil on his either shoulder--has decided to ban shisha smoking in public places, citing fears of "cancer" and other spurious health issues.*
The ban is seen as revolutionary in the Middle East by anti-smoking advocates, the first attempt to address openly tobacco's threat to society. Purveyors of the delectable vice that is shisha smoking, however, are dismayed at the law, which is a blow to their businesses and livelihoods. Some even fear black markets and bribe-taking inspectors will emerge to circumvent the law
Shisha-smoking in Syria is a centuries-old tradition; its origin a bygone era when merchants and traders travelling from India--the birthplace of the hookah--would park their wagons in Damascus or Aleppo, two important trading hubs, and rest for awhile amongst the famously hospitable Syrians with whom they'd share their smoke. Nowadays, if you can't find a Syrian to take a puff from your pipe, you're just not looking hard enough.
And over the years, the tranquility and camaraderie with which Syrians enjoy smoking the water pipe have been among that country's most enduring images, not unlike the way Canadians gather round clunky tables at Tim Horton's on weekend mornings to grumble about hockey and the weather and Americans.
According to the titularly authoritative website ShishaCanada.com, the popularity of smoking the hookah in this country is entirely due to the activity's social element; smoking the shisha is a group thing, and Canadians love hanging out in groups.
Naturally, most places in this health-care obsessed country forbid indoor smoking in public places, so the multitude of hookah bars that have sprung up in the past decade are turning to tobacco-free, herbal shisha concoctions that don't run afoul of the smoking bylaws.
The popular Internet shisha factory Hookah Hub has an entire department devoted to herbal blends, which are essentially teas that you smoke in your pipe, in flavours such as blueberry, fruit punch, grape, green apple, guava, kiwi, lemon, mango, margarita, melon, orange, peach, peanut butter, pina colada, pineapple, pumpkin pie, spearmint, strawberry, watermelon and, the most popular shisha flavour of all time, tufahtayn ("double apple").
Now, no one can predict how smooth peanut butter and pumpkin pie will go down amongst the discerning Syrians, but otherwise the herbal remedy may be just what can save shisha in Syria.The Tuque Souq is dialing Bashar right now. Save Syrian Shisha! Say it with me five times really fast.
* From the Tuque Souq Surgeon General: The World Health Organization considers tobacco the #1 cause globally of death and disability, with lung cancer especially crippling developing nations' health-care services and killing millions each year. More than 90% of lung-cancer cases stem from tobacco use. Smoking kills you, and before it kills you it makes you really, really ugly. Unless you're this person in the image at left. [Click to enlarge]