My mother chooses not to drink. It just isn’t her thing. Despite this, she loves hitting the town and enjoying an evening out with her friends.
This is not uncommon given our cultural background. The night is when everyone comes out to play in Pakistan, as the days are often sweltering. We are a people of the night; maybe that’s why there are so many poems about the moon and stars written by our poets.
In Canada, we equate drinking with nightlife and the ability to have fun outside the norm of daytime activities. This is not necessarily the case in the Middle East. Though people do drink and go to bars, the most common conduit for socializing on a night out is a shisha lounge with friends and family. Shisha is smoked at restaurants, cafes and patios.
Smoking from a hookah (a multi-stemmed instrument for vapourizing) is an ancient practice that dates back to the Persian Safavid Dynasty and the Mughal Empire. It is a rich part of Middle Eastern culture.
Many Middle Easterners, Turks, Arabs, North Africans, and South Asians have a hookah in their home which is whipped out on social occasions to partake in with a guest. It is an accepted and highly common pastime.
It is a way in which folks from these cultures socialize with one another over food, drinks, music, and sometimes, belly-dancers! You cannot say we don’t how to have a good time.
The inherent harm of inhaling smoke into one’s lungs is obvious. Nonetheless, shisha is an age-old way of bringing people together, and frankly, with all the other vices available out there, cannot be said to do any serious damage to society.
Over the last year and a half there has been an imminent threat of closure to shisha lounges in Ottawa and Toronto. Ottawa Public Health’s Gillian Connelly, manager of health promotion and disease prevention in Ottawa, has stated that smoking shisha in public spaces normalizes and promotes smoking. She has appealed to the city to ban shisha lounges on this basis.
If this ban is approved in Ottawa, it will come into effect December 1 and be enforced January 1. Shisha bars, cafes, and lounges are usually run by small business owners. Most are owned by first generation Canadians making their way as business-people in Canada, contributing to the economy while putting food on their plates.
How stable is our economy that countless shisha places in hubs like Ottawa can be so swiftly shut down? We are seeing this happen in Toronto as well, where many shisha cafe owners are unsure about the future of their businesses.
How are bars any different? Do they not promote and normalize drinking? If health concerns are the primary reasons for these proposed closures, why are we not taking a closer look at the countless dangers associated with drinking?
The argument that shisha lounges are a health concern to those who may be at risk of second hand smoke is ludicrous, considering that anyone entering the vicinity of shisha will be well aware that smoke will be in the air.
Let’s face it, people are going to smoke anyways. In light of recent attempts at passing progressive marijuana legislation in this country, is this proposition not a step backwards?
Historically, micromanaging society and authoritative suppression has always proven to have the opposite of the desired result.
In many ways, hookah culture in the East is the equivalent of drinking culture in the West.
How can we call ourselves a multicultural society and boast acceptance when we selectively decide what is and isn’t a taboo indulgence?
Drinking in public institutions is deemed appropriate due to settler influence.Guess what, other people live here too, with different vices and practices.
Aren’t we sick and tired of people crashing their cars and getting into fatal accidents when driving drunk?
Of mopping up someone’s regurgitated fish and chips at the end of the night? How can shisha, often herbal, be perceived as this huge, imminent threat to our well-being, when people are slipping dangerous drugs into women’s drinks throughout our thousands of nationally sanctioned bars?
The entitlement and xenophobia involved in these looming closures is crystal clear.
What will become of people like my mother who can no longer enjoy themselves at a hip shisha lounge at midnight, with fruity scents wafting through the air, fiery silks draping walls and the laughter of her friends and clink of drinks resonating?
What will become of the couple who owns that well-established and successful lounge down the street who are planning to put their kids through college?
Will it all vanish into thin air?
This is a truly tragic reality sweeping big cities in Canada and impacting countless people in their ability to enjoy an important part of their culture in the public space of a country they call home.