cousin marriage conundrum addendum

several years ago now, stanley kurtz, steve sailer and parapundit wrote a great bunch of articles/posts about the futility of america trying to secure the oil resources in bring democracy to iraq since the society there is tribal and the tribalism is based on the long-standing iraqi practice of inbreeding (i.e. marrying their cousins).

steve sailer wrote about how cousin marriage leads to “strong nepotistic urges” ’cause, of course, working from the “selfish gene” perspective and bill hamilton’s idea of inclusive fitness, it makes sense to favor your relatives that share a heck of a lot of ur genes over some strangers in the next town.

and the MORE you are related to your relatives (for instance, ’cause ur clan members have been inbreeding for generations), you’d think the MORE you’d favor them. which is exactly what we see in the world.

from cousin marriage conundrum:

“In Iraq, as in much of the region, nearly half of all married couples are first or second cousins to each other. A 1986 study of 4,500 married hospital patients and staff in Baghdad found that 46% were wed to a first or second cousin, while a smaller 1989 survey found 53% were ‘consanguineously’ married. The most prominent example of an Iraqi first cousin marriage is that of Saddam Hussein and his first wife Sajida.

By fostering intense family loyalties and strong nepotistic urges, inbreeding makes the development of civil society more difficult. Many Americans have heard by now that Iraq is composed of three ethnic groups — the Kurds of the north, the Sunnis of the center, and the Shi’ites of the south. Clearly, these ethnic rivalries would complicate the task of ruling reforming Iraq. But that’s just a top-down summary of Iraq’s ethnic make-up. Each of those three ethnic groups is divisible into smaller and smaller tribes, clans, and inbred extended families — each with their own alliances, rivals, and feuds. And the engine at the bottom of these bedeviling social divisions is the oft-ignored institution of cousin marriage.

“The fractiousness and tribalism of Middle Eastern countries have frequently been remarked. In 1931, King Feisal of Iraq described his subjects as ‘devoid of any patriotic idea, connected by no common tie, giving ear to evil; prone to anarchy, and perpetually ready to rise against any government whatever.’ The clannishness, corruption, and coups frequently observed in countries such as Iraq appears to be in tied to the high rates of inbreeding.

“Muslim countries are usually known for warm, devoted extended family relationships, but also for weak patriotism. In the U.S., where individualism is so strong, many assume that ‘family values’ and civic virtues such as sacrificing for the good of society always go together. But, in Islamic countries, loyalty to extended (as opposed to nuclear) families is often at war with loyalty to nation. Civic virtues, military effectiveness, and economic performance all suffer.

“Commentator Randall Parker wrote, ‘Consanguinity [cousin marriage] is the biggest underappreciated factor in Western analyses of Middle Eastern politics. Most Western political theorists seem blind to the importance of pre-ideological kinship-based political bonds in large part because those bonds are not derived from abstract Western ideological models of how societies and political systems should be organized. Extended families that are incredibly tightly bound are really the enemy of civil society because the alliances of family override any consideration of fairness to people in the larger society. Yet, this obvious fact is missing from 99% of the discussions about what is wrong with the Middle East. How can we transform Iraq into a modern liberal democracy if every government worker sees a government job as a route to helping out his clan at the expense of other clans?'”

[btw – i highly recommend reading steve’s “cousin marriage conundrum” and all of parapundit’s posts on the topic.]

this is why i was babbling about the levels of cousin marriage in egypt (38.9% in 2000) the other day. egyptians are inbred like the iraqis — so there’s a lot of nepotism and corruption and generally not getting along with other, not-so-related egyptians. egypt has probably functioned as well as it has over the last few decades precisely because they haven’t had a free democracy and, as meng b pointed out, the military has basically been running the place (which a majority of egyptians don’t actually mind!).

what stanley kurtz absolutely nailed, tho, is the fact that not only do a lot of middle easterners and south asians inbreed a lot, they also do it in a very special way.

a very common form of marriage in that part of the world — which tends to be avoided by most other human populations, btw — is called “father’s brother’s daughter” (fbd) marriage or patrilateral parallel cousin marriage, which sounds like a bunch of gobbledygook but just means that the typical form of marriage is that of brothers’ children (i.e. cousins who share a common paternal grandfather -or- cousins whose fathers are brothers).

what difference does that make? a LOT. for one thing, it means that pretty much all of the men in an extended family share (virtually) the same y-chromosome. the genes that make them men? — they have pretty much the same exact ones.

to my mind, the practice should really be called “father’s brother’s son” marriage because, in terms of the y-chromosome anyway, the advantage in this arrangement goes to the father-of-the-bride since he gets to have (virutally) his y-chromsome inherited by any grandsons his daughter bears since she will be married to his paternal nephew [click on chart for LARGER version – adapted from here]:

somehow, some way — and i haven’t thought it through fully yet — fbd marriage makes the males in an extended, inbred family — like the ones in the middle east/south asia — very paternalistic.

again, stanley kurtz nailed it in “veil of fears” [read that, too]:

“The ‘family’ to which a Muslim Middle Easterner is loyal, however, is not like our family. It is a ‘patrilineage’ — a group of brothers and other male relatives, descended from a line of men that can ultimately be traced back to the founder of a particular tribe. Traditionally, lineage brothers will live near one another and will share the family’s property. This willingness of a ‘band of brothers’ to pool their labor and wealth is the key to the strength of the lineage.

“But the centrality of men to the Muslim kinship system sets up a problem. The women who marry into a lineage pose a serious threat to the unity of the band of brothers. If a husband’s tie to his wife should become more important than his solidarity with his brothers, the couple might take their share of the property and leave the larger group, thus weakening the strength of the lineage.

“There is a solution to this problem, however — a solution that marks out the kinship system of the Muslim Middle East as unique in the world. In the Middle East, the preferred form of marriage is between a man and his cousin (his father’s brother’s daughter). Cousin marriage solves the problem of lineage solidarity. If, instead of marrying a woman from a strange lineage, a man marries his cousin, then his wife will not be an alien, but a trusted member of his own kin group. Not only will this reduce a man’s likelihood of being pulled away from his brothers by his wife, a woman of the lineage is less likely to be divorced by her husband, and more likely to be protected by her own extended kin in case of a rupture in the marriage. Somewhere around a third of all marriages in the Muslim Middle East are between members of the same lineage, and in some places the figure can reach as high as 80 percent. It is this system of ‘patrilateral parallel cousin marriage’ that ex plains the persistence of veiling, even in the face of modernity.

“By veiling, women are shielded from the possibility of a dishonoring premarital affair. But above all, when Muslim women veil, they are saving themselves for marriage to the men of their own kin group. In an important sense, this need to protect family honor and preserve oneself for an advantageous marriage to a man of the lineage is a key to the rise of Islamic revivalism.”

the particular sort of clannishness that we see in the middle east and parts of south asia that steve sailer talked about in “cousin marriage conundrum” is based on: 1) inbreeding, AND 2) the type of inbreeding.

the societies in that part of the world are split into a myriad of extended families and clans and tribes that will never get along so long as they continue their current marriage practices.

previously: on the origins of the multicultacracy, aígyptos, assimilation interrupted, kissin’ cousins.

update 03/09: see also all cousins are not created equal


double bonus:

(note: comments do not require an email.)


  1. Good post. I must say that the prevalence of cousin marriage in the Arab world was one of the most shocking things I learned as a freshman in college taking a class called “Modern Iraqi Literature”. I hadn’t seen much discussion of it since then until I chanced upon a few discussions on GNXP and I think I may have seem some Sailer posts on the topic.

    It certainly seems to me like this particular aspect of Middle Eastern culture is problematic for “modernization” and it will be interesting to see how (if we can discern how) it will play into Egypt’s future. Another aspect of Egypt that should be interesting is the interaction between different ethnic subgroups.

    I know that ~10% of the country is Coptic, but there are other divisions as well. The current de facto head of the Egyptian government, Tantawi, is a Nubian, and I think it was you who mentioned the Magyarab. If Egypt were to have a strong civilian elected government (I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is unlikely), it would have to manage these splits and we might see something like Lebanon or Iraq, neither of which is a particularly pretty sight.


  2. @meng b – “This is pretty off topic, but did you see this map of scientific collaboration between cities?”

    coooo-el! (^_^) i luv maps. ot maps are always welcome!

    so, northern europe + north america + japan. and some india and brazil. no big surprises, eh? i think i see haaaaahvard and berkeley there! (~_^)


  3. Too often people attempt to use evolution to describe things they think might be happening when it may or may not apply. In this case, trying to claim that people who marry their cousins are biologically inclined (because of genes) to prefer their local relatives more than people who don’t is really stretching things.

    “It makes sense to me that X would lead to Y, and my view of the world confirms Y, therefor X.” No, no, no, no, NO! This is not scientific, rational, or reasonable. All this is is an excuse for bigotry. “Muslims hate democracy because they’re all a bunch of inbred freaks.”

    Family is extremely important in a lot of cultures, not all of which do cousin marrying. It may be an interesting conversation to see if strong family preference tends to preclude social responsibility but to move from that conversation into claiming that these people are bread to hate democracy is just fucking ridiculous.


  4. @crazy eddie – “In this case, trying to claim that people who marry their cousins are biologically inclined (because of genes) to prefer their local relatives more than people who don’t….”

    no. not “because of genes.” because of the level of relatedness. this has to do with inclusive fitness specifically, not evolution (not in the sense of natural selection and types of genes in the genome, etc.).


  5. “This is pretty off topic, but did you see this map of scientific collaboration between cities?”

    What a cool map.


  6. -no. not “because of genes.” because of the level of relatedness. this has to do with inclusive fitness specifically, not evolution (not in the sense of natural selection and types of genes in the genome, etc.).-

    You see, what the man said was a ‘reasoned’ remark. Understanding how the logic of evolution is applied is not straightforward.

    From what I can gather formal academic institutions are not encouraging HBD, so in order to increase understanding would require very simple explanations that the humanities and non graduates who govern and mediate can comprehend?


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