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Re: NYTimes.com Article: Iraqi Family Ties Complicate American Efforts for Change
by Charles Jannuzi
30 September 2003 03:05 UTC
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1. Consanguineous marriage and/or breeding is very
common, even in societies where people tend not to be
so aware of it--including the US, where the laws
attempt to prevent marriage of first cousins of
reproductive age.  Consanguineous marriage and/or
breeding of some sort might be related to things like
lines of descent and inheritance of property, but it
also can reflect the isolation of a minority--such as
the gypsies or triracial isolates in the
Appalachians--or the desire to remain distinct, such
as with the Amish.    

2. Consanguineous marriage of patrilateral first
cousins is reported to be quite common in Saudi
Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan; you could even say a
dominant pattern to marriage in those countries. It's
reported as common among Kurds, even higher than among
Shia in other places in the ME. For Iraq, however, the
official information I've got is that it is, overall,
lower there than for much of the other Arab world
(S.A., Kuwait, Jordan). For example,

3. It's a topic Stanley Kurtz at National Review has
latched on to, so beware. NR, NYT, it makes little
difference to me. It appears earliest as one of those
'trends in analysis' pieces here in this American
Conservative article. The wretchedness of the NYT
knows no limits now apparently. In fact, the hard
facts that the NYT article cites appears to come
straight out of this piece of trash: 

"Cousin Marriage Conundrum: The ancient practice
discourages democratic 
by Steve Sailer
The American Conservative, 
Jan. 13, 2003, pp. 20-22 (not online)

snip snip>>Many prominent neoconservatives are calling
on America not only to conquer Iraq (and perhaps more
Muslim nations after that), but also to rebuild Iraqi
society in order to jumpstart the democratization of
the Middle East. Yet, Americans know so little about
the Middle East that few of us are even aware of one
of one of the building blocks of Arab Muslim cultures
-- cousin marriage. Not surprisingly, we are almost
utterly innocent of any understanding of how much the
high degree of inbreeding in Iraq could interfere with
our nation building ambitions.<<snip snip wash hands.

5. Other reading (recommended)   


Middle East (especially Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and
Jordan)  Over half of all marriages are
consanguineous.The most common type of consanguineous
marriage is that of patrilateral first-cousins. 

Syria, Israel (Arab community), Algeria, Lebanon,
Egypt, Pakistan  More than one in four marriages are

[so far, the information that I've found puts Iraq
more in line with these countries, and if you subtract
the Kurds, the % goes down - CJ]



While a-thalassaemia has never been a health problem
in Iraq, b-thalassaemia in its homozygous state is
[5]. It is the authors' opinion that the high
prevalence rate of heterozygous b-thalassaemia, and
that of consanguineous marriages in the community, in
addition to high morbidity and mortality rates, and
the heavy burden imposed on the health services in
association with homozygous thalassaemia, should
prompt the health authorities to establish an
effective prenatal diagnostic programme. Such a
programme could only be possible by initiating
research programmes to determine the molecular
pathology of this type of thalassaemia in Iraq.
Moreover, further studies to estimate the prevalence
of thalassaemia in other regions of the country,
utilizing a similar approach as in the current study,
is of prime importance in order to establish a
comprehensive national programme to combat this
important health problem.

5.2 Frequency and types of consanguineous marriage 

The term consanguineous literally means related by
blood, so consanguineous marriages are defined as
marriages between blood relatives. For practical
purposes, geneticists usually classify unions between
second cousins or closer as consanguineous, because
the genetic risk for less closely related couples
differs only marginally from that in
non-consanguineous unions. 

Consanguineous marriage is strongly favoured in many
large human populations. Figure 5.1 is based on 98
local, regional, and national studies conducted during
the last two generations, sample size varying from 252
to 893 941 [121,148]. In the mainly Muslim countries
of the Eastern Mediterranean Region, and in most parts
of south Asia, consanguineous marriage accounts for
from 20% to over 50% of the total in the present
generation. No account has been taken of major
populations (e.g. of China and Indonesia) for which
there is little current information on prevalence of
consanguineous marriage, although anthropological
sources indicate that first cousin marriage used to be
traditional in at least a part of the population
[149]. The numerically significant communities of
Asian or African origin now resident in Western
Europe, North America and Oceania are also omitted. 

In 1994, the combined population of countries where
consanguineous marriage is known to be customary was
732 million, and a further 1468 million live in
countries where 1% to 10% of marriages are

The specific types of consanguineous marriage favoured
can vary quite widely between and within countries,
and religious and cultural factors play a major part
in determining social attitudes and legal frameworks
at local and national levels. For example, in Lebanon
consanguineous marriages are reported to be more
prevalent within the Druze community than among Shi'a
Muslims, and less again among Sunni Muslims [150]. 

First cousins inherit one quarter of their genes from
each of their common grandparents, and one eighth of
their genes are identical by inheritance. The children
of first cousin parents inherit identical gene copies
from each parent at one sixteenth (6.25%) of all gene
loci, over and above the baseline level of
homozygosity in the general population.6 This degree
of homozygosity by descent (or, more correctly,
autozygosity) is expressed as a coefficient of
inbreeding (F) of 0.0625. 

Double first cousin marriages, where the spouses have
both sets of grandparents in common, also occur. Here
12.5% of children's gene pairs are identical by
descent, i.e. F = 0.125. 

In the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Region
the preference for consanguineous marriage is by no
means restricted to Islamic communities; first cousin
marriage is also common in some Christian and Jewish
communities and among Zoroastrians and Parsis.
Uncle-niece and very occasionally aunt-nephew unions
have been reported among Sephardi Jewish migrant
communities in Israel [151,152]. Double first cousin
and uncle-niece marriage involve the same coefficient
of inbreeding in the children (F = 0.125), but as
uncle-niece marriage is prohibited in the Koran, it is
unknown in the predominantly Muslim countries of the

Data on the prevalence and types of consanguineous
unions reported for the Eastern Mediterranean Region
are presented in Table 5.1. The categories reported

? D1C, double first cousin (F = 0.125) 

? 1C, first cousin (F = 0.0625) 

? 1?C, first cousin once removed (F = 0.0313) 

? 2C, second cousin (F = 0.0156) 

? non-consanguineous (F = 0) 

The figures in Table 5.1 refer to the present
generation only. Since the parents or more distant
ancestors of many consanguineous couples were also
consanguineous, the average coefficient of inbreeding
calculated for each locality (F or a = S piFi) is a
minimal estimate.7 

TABLE 5.1 Parental consanguinity studies in some
countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Region 

Country   First cousins (%) Total consanguineous
marriages (%) F References 
Bahrain ? 39.4*     [153] 
  ? 39*   0.0145 [154] 
    20.6 29.3 0.015 [155] 
    11.4 29 0.01 [156] 
  Urban 8.3 20.4   [25] 
  Rural 17.2 36.2   [25] 
  All country 12.4 27.7**   [25] 
Iran, Islamic Republic of           
  Urban ? 37.3   [157] 
  Rural 30 46.9   [157] 
  Tribal 10.2 18.4   [157] 
  Qashquais 52.4 73.5   [157] 
Iraq   29.2 57.9** 0.0225 [158] 
  All country 32 50** 0.0225 [159] 
  Urban 29.8 ?   [159] 
  Rural 37.9 ?   [159] 
  Muslim 33.1 ?   [159] 
  Christian 23.5 ?   [159] 
Kuwait   30.2 54.3**   [160] 
  Muslim 17.3 29.6*   [161] 
  Christian 7.9 16.5*   [161] 
Pakistan   37.1 50.3   [162] 
Saudi Arabia   31.4 54.3*   [163] 
United Arab Emirates   30 54   [33] 

* Details of beyond first cousin marriages not
** Total consanguinity rate includes beyond second
cousins matings.
F: Average inbreeding coefficient
?: Data not available

a) Genetic and social bonds for the woman at the start
of a non-consanguineous marriage

b) Genetic and social bonds for the woman at the start
of a consanguineous marriage

There is good agreement between estimates for
prevalence of consanguineous marriage in some
countries of the Region, e.g. Pakistan, but in others
significantly different frequencies have been
reported. This may be partly explained by regional or
ethnic variations in marriage patterns, or by
variations in the survey method, e.g. household survey
or survey among obstetric inpatients. In some earlier
studies, the small numbers interviewed and data
collection only on first cousin unions could have
given less reliable results. In general, since most of
the data were collected in urban settings and
consanguineous marriage is most prevalent in rural
areas, the figures in Table 5.1 can best be regarded
as minimal estimates of the current levels of close
kin marriage in the Eastern Mediterranean Region. 

Since in this Region consanguineous marriage usually
involves marrying a cousin of some kind, the popular
term "cousin marriage" is also used in this report
when it seems appropriate. 

6 In certain types of first cousin union, such as
mother's brother's daughter (MBD), the coefficient of
inbreeding at X chromosome loci (F x) may exceed the
equivalent autosomal value. For MDB progeny F x =

7 a is the sum of the proportion of couples (P i) in
each specific consanguinity class (F i)



Many groups have terms that translate easily as tribe
(^l), section (taa@÷efa) and subsection (t^ra), and
patrilineal ties are always privileged in theory,
though not reliably in practice. In this connection
ethnographers have sought to document marriage choice
in order to fuel the larger anthropological discussion
of the structural implications of particular marriage
preferences, in this case for marriage with the
patrilateral parallel cousin, or father's brother's
daughter, whether first cousin or more distant
collateral. But in general the data show simply a
preference for marriage with any collateral,
matrilateral or patrilateral, close or relatively
distant. It is perhaps not surprising that the most
conspicuous events in the life of nomadic communities
are weddings. The reinforcement of existing
relationships through marriage, and the forging of new
relationships, are the most crucial social concerns in
any community. The appropriate symbolization of
weddings, as well as financial investment in them, are
guarantees of social stability. This is perhaps the
most important structural feature of Iranian society
in general, but it is most crucial in nomadic
situations where herding futures are at stake, and
property is volatile. It is well documented in most of
the sources (see especially Beck, Bradburd, N.
Tapper). There is, however, also always the
possibility of individual romance taking precedence
over careful political arrangement, and occasional
elopement is also documented (Beck).

posted by Charles Jannuzi
Fukui, Japan 


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