fbd cousin marriage and clans and tribes in iraq

the counts vary depending on who you talk to and how you want to slice up clans and tribes, but there’s something on the order of 150 tribes comprised of ca. 2,000 clans in iraq today (“today” meaning in 2008). roughly three-quarters of the iraqi population admits to belonging to clans and/or tribes. here’s a map of where the tribes are located (from same report as above – click on map for LARGER view):

iraq - tribes

consang.net puts the cousin marriage rates for iraq at anywhere between 25 and 53% in the 1980s and 2000s [pgs. 17-18 – pdf], and those numbers include a lot of double-first cousin marriages which indicates father’s brother’s daughter’s (fbd) marriage. a 50% cousin marriage rate would be one of the highest rates in the world, comparable to places like saudi arabia and pakistan (and certain neighborhoods in bradford).

a 2005 u.n.-funded report from the iraqi ministry of planning and development cooperation [pdf – pg. 47] tells us that, in 2004, seventeen percent of all married women were in fbd marriages (the report refers to them as father’s brother’s son or fbs marriages taking the point of view of the woman — same difference), another four percent were in father’s sister’s daughter (fzd) marriages, and another thirteen percent were to some other kind-of relative within the paternal clan. that’s 34% of marriages between paternal relatives. another fifteen percent of marriages were between maternal relatives — maternal cousins and such. fbd marriage has actually decreased in frequency since the 1940s, but other forms of cousin marriage increased over the same time period. as the report says [pg. 48]:

“Thus, in contrast to patterns among other populations in the Middle East (Patterson 2002), kin marriage frequency does not seem to have decreased with the overall modernisation of Iraq.”

the direct result of all this fbd marriage, i think, is the hierarchical structure of arab/iraqi society in which extended families are nested into sub-clans which are nested into larger clans which, in turn, are nested into tribes — and all of these are based on a patrilineal system. this structure means that subgroups can and do easily fission off from their fellow subgroups and that they don’t always naturally cooperate with one another. this is where the bedouin “I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers” principle comes in. from murphy and kasdan’s “The Structure of Parallel Cousin Marriage” [pg. 24]:

“Degree of relationship is the significant criterion in the determination of allegiances. Distance from a common ancestor in terms of numbers of intervening kinsmen is crucial to the ordering of relations within and between agnatic sections, and the principle of degree of relationship determines the composition of the Ego-centered blood responsibility group.

“[This] fact tells us a great deal about the patrilineal units of Arab society: except perhaps at the level of the tribe, there are no lineages in the sense of bounded groups having a continuing and cohesive base in corporate rights and duties. Differing degrees of relationship within the named groupings tend to break up their internal homogeneity; they are not solidary units, but become activated only temporarily at the call of political expediency….

it’s difficult to next to impossible to form “corporate” cooperative groups like those you find in northwest european societies in fbd marriage societies, because it just doesn’t pay — in inclusive fitness terms — for individuals to cooperate with distant relatives, let alone strangers. or maybe the way to look at it is that, given the degrees of relatedness between family members in such populations, which are way higher than in non-cousin marrying pops, it just pays more for individuals to cooperate with the closest relative(s) possible in any given situation. see steve sailer’s “Cousin Marriage Conundrum” for more on the dynamics of fbd societies.

this is not something automatic or something that can be changed overnight. if you were to take a group of long term outbreeders — like northwest europeans — and set them to marrying their cousins, they would not begin to behave like clannish, nepotistic inbreeders in one generation. i don’t think. we’re probably talking about an evolutionary process here, so you’d have to let a little natural selection take its course. you’d have to allow for the relatedness between individuals in the population to change and for the dynamics within the society to change — in other words for the selection pressures to change — until more clannish individuals began to show higher fitness rates and increased in number in the population.

and vice versa for changing a long term inbreeding society.

as greg cochran has said, “every society selects for something.” i think a long term inbreeding society selects — or can select — for what i call clannishness. and iraqis have got that in spades. they’ve got clans and tribes, nepotism, and an obvious inability to handle liberal democracy. not that that’s some sort of goal in and of itself. i’m just sayin’.

so the degree and the type of inbreeding or outbreeding in any population is important — i.e. the percentage of cousin marriages, for instance, which we’ve seen is high in iraq, and whether or not those cousin marriages are fbd in type which leads to increased amounts of the very close double-first cousin marriages — but so is the length of time of the inbreeding or outbreeding. the question then is: for how long have iraqis been marrying their cousins, in particular their fbds?

in “Parallel-Cousin (FBD) Marriage, Islamization, and Arabization”, andrey korotayev points out that fbd marriage is found almost exclusively in those areas of the world that were a part of the eighth century caliphate (one exception seems to be the sotho-tswana peoples of southern africa):

caliphate in 750

korotayev suggests, rightly so i think, that the arabs introduced fbd marriage to populations in the maghreb, mashriq, and south asia (afghanistan and pakistan). the locals picked up on fbd marriage as part of a broader arabization process — they were just generally keen to imitate their new overlords in all ways. (btw, pseudoerasmus is on a mission to figure out why any group would adopt fbd marriage at all. most peoples consider it too incestuous [it does lead to a lot of double-first cousin matings], so keep an eye out on pseudo’s blog for more on that!)

the arabs conquered iraq (as part of their conquest of the persian sasanian empire) in the early part of the 600s, so that’s a good 1400 years of possible fbd marriage in iraq, although it no doubt took some time before the local population adopted the practice in significant numbers. it’s worth noting that this is pretty much diametrically opposed to what happened in europe where cousin marriage of all sorts began to be banned right around the same time.

question is, were the peoples of iraq marrying cousins of any sort before the arabs arrived? my guess is that they were not marrying their fbds before the arabs arrived, and, going by the below description of the aramaeans (which is just hearsay, i’ll admit), many of them may not have been marrying their closest cousins much at all. (of course, the elite persians — the zoroastrians — were marrying their siblings, but that’s another story for another day.) from Iraq After the Muslim Conquest, here’s what the arabs thought of the aramaeans [pg. 179]:

For their part, Arabs tended to stereotype Aramaeans as arrogant people who identified themselves by their place of origin instead of by a tribal genealogy. Arabs looked down on them as people who had lost their power and independence first to Persian and then to Arab rulers. According to Mas’udi, the Anbat were inferior to Arabs because the latter were granted a prophet and the former were not.”

inbred, clannish peoples tend to identify themselves by some sort of family name or at least by the names of their fathers and grandfathers — think: arabs, chinese, russians, scots. it’s outbred peoples who often take other sorts of surnames — like all the “professional” names of the english (miller, cooper, sawyer, lawyer, archer!). many northwest european groups have this, of course. so it’s interesting that the aramaeans did not identify themselves according to tribe but according to place. this might indicate that they were not regular inbreeders, but Further Research Is RequiredTM.

btw, here’s what the aramaeans thought of the arabs:

“On their side, the Aramaeans, as representatives of a sedentary, orderly, agricultural population, reacted somewhat unfavorably to what was felt to be an impetuosity or excitability on the part of Arabs. This attitude and the stereotpe it involved is well illustrated in the case of an Arab monk from Hira named Mar Eliyya who lived at the Nestorian monastery on Mt. Izla above Nasibin in the late sixth century. The monastic chronicler who described Rabban Eliyya’s energentic response to a crisis in the community found it necessary to explain that he possessed the ‘violent character of the bedouin.’ Such attitudes survived the conquest and were expressed as a feeling of superiority on the part of the Anbat over Arabs because of the achievements of the Babylonians, the antiquity and spread of their civilization, the flourishing of agriculture, and their acceptance of Islam without having a prophet appear amongst them.”

here’s more from Iraq After the Muslim Conquest [pg. 236]:

“The single most important ethnographic change in seventh-century Iraq was the arrival of large numbers of Muslim Arabs from the Arabian peninsula and the foundation of new urban centers as garrison cities where they settled….”

the author, historian michael morony, goes on to describe the settlement patterns of the invading arabs in two cities, kufa and basra — the arabs had gated communities and everything! [pgs. 242-243, 246]:

The pattern which emerges at Kufa is that of a city divided into separate tribal districts (Ar. sg. *nahiya* or *mahalla*), each with its own *masjid* for daily worship and tribal assemblies, its own cemetery, and with gates to close off the streets going through each district. Within each district, the members of the respective tribes seem to have settled by clan along lanes or alleys adjacent to the main street of the district. From a purely descriptive point of view, it is possible to identify most of the tribal districts in seventh-century Kufa….

“It also seems that as time passed, subgroups within a tribal district tended to form their own neighborhoods. Such were the districts (*mahallat*) of the Banu Shaytan clan of Tamim and of the Banu ‘Anz ibn Wa’il, who had their own *masjid*….”

“The organization of Basra along tribal lines was similar to that of Kufa….”

another city, hira, had been heavily settled in by arab traders for generations before the arab invasions, and they, too, had lived in neighborhoods arranged according to clans/tribes, so the clan system obviously goes well back in arab society [pg. 221]:

“Hira was the political and cultural hub of this zone of Arab settlement and, in spite of the presence of Persian soliders and *dahaqin*, it was considered to be an Arab city. The Arab population of Hira was a mixture of many small groups of diverse tribal origins. Members of Tanukh, Tayyi’, Tamim, Sulaym, ‘Ijl, Shayban, Tha’laba, Asad, Azd, Kalb, and others could be found at Hira. The organization of late Sasanian Hira around several fortified enclosures (Ar. *qusur*) that were identified with particular clans, the existence of tribal churches, and the political and social domination of the town by an elite of notables (Ar. *ashraf*) belonging to the leading clans make Hira a good example of a late pre-Islamic Arab city as well as a prototype for tribally organized early Islamic cities such as Kufa and Bara.”

more from morony [pgs. 254-255]:

One of the most apparent social consequences of the conquest was an extension of tribal social organization, especially in urban settings. This was associated with the new ruling group and was partly the result of the cohesion of tribal groups, which preserved their identities in the garrison cities and even enhanced their ties to other groups on the basis of nominal kinship. The state also helped to preserve such identities by using them as a basis for military organization. An equally powerful influence in the survival of tribal society, however, was the Qur’an. It sanctioned many aspects of the tribal social ethic, such as the importance of group solidarity, joint responsibility, exemplary behavior, generosity, hospitality, the protection of the weak by the strong, raiding, and retaliation. Although the intention in the Qur’an was to replace tribal identities with an Islamic identity, many tribal social values received a new religious sanction in the process.

Retaliation is a good example of the survival and reinterpretation of the tribal ethic in early Islamic Iraq. The Qur’an sanctioned the principle of retaliation partly because it was impossible to suppress it completely and partly because the early Islamic community at Madina faced a desperate struggle for survival. But the Qur’an also attempted to prevent an unending chain of blood vengeance by recommending charity, forgiveness, and the acceptance of a blood-price (Ar. *diya*) as the better way.

“The annals of early Islamic history are full of examples of retaliation, and there is no question that it remained one of the most important responsibilities of kinship. Of greater significance are the attempts by the state to restrict and to control it. When two of Muthanna’s lieutenants drowned several members of the tribes of Taghlib and Namir at Siffin [in syria-h.chick] in 634 in retaliation for a pre-Islamic grievance, ‘Umar made them swear that they had done it as an example and not out of vengeance. Under Mu’awiya the state attempted to regulate the operation of the private blood-feud in Iraq by enforcing the responsibilities of the clan (Ar. *aqila*) as a legal unit. At Basra, Ziyad held families and tribes responsible for the behavior of their members. Payment of the blood-price was assured by deducting the amount from the pay of the guilty party or from that of his tribe. If the victim was non-Muslim, half the normal blood-price went to the next of kin and the other half to the state treasury….”

so the invading arabs introduced — directly transplanted, really — into seventh century iraq tribes and tribal behaviors, including blood feuds, along with their underlying foundation, fbd marriage. i’m not sure what the social structures of pre-islamic iraq were like, but from what morony says, it sounds as though the arab-style of tribalism was a new introduction at the time to the region.

divisions within pre-islamic iraqi society had, however, been growing in the late sasanian era, and these divisions were not at all discouraged by the arabs once they took charge [pgs. 518 and 278]:

One of the most important of such trends was the formation of a society composed of religious communities, which was already well under way by the late sixth century with the strengthening of internal bonds and external boundaries….

“[T]he Muslims expected Jews and Christians to live according to their own religious laws, so the conquest had the effect of encouraging the operation and continuing development of autonomous systems of religious laws….”

“[T]he formation of…closely knit communities increasingly isolated the members of one group from those of another. The boundaries created between religious groups by separarte bodies of law are indicative of the rising barriers to interfaith relations at the end of the Sasanian period. The defensiveness associated with this development was symbolized by a shared vocabulary of protective walls. The Magians [zoroastrians-h.chick] saw the good fortune of their religion (M.P. *den x’arrah*) as a fortress-like enclosure formed by the starry band around the sky, which protected the good from the attacks of demons. Jews spoke of making a fence around the Torah, and the Nestorian synod of 554 called the canons ‘high walls, impregnable fortresses, protecting their guardians against all danger.'”

so, it’s not as though pre-islamic iraq was a unified nation, either. yes, my curiosity has been raised, so i’ll be checking into all of this further.

iraqis have been working on being highly clannish and tribal for nearly 1400 years, if not longer. my conservative guesstimate is that they’ve been practicing the closest form of cousin marriage possible — fbd marriage — for a thousand years, again if not longer. that’s about 40 generations, if we count a generation at 25 years in length.

like super misdreavus tweeted, there’s no reason to think that simply introducing western institutions to the country will change how the country works. not overnight. not even in ten or twenty generations, if the new institutions could somehow be sustained for that long in the country. saddam hussein tried to suppress the clans and tribes — he apparently banned the use of tribal names [pg. 3] — as did gaddafi in libya, but to no avail. iraq’s solutions lie in that country’s own traditions — their own methods of governing and running things — not in western style democracy.

as super misdreavus also tweeted, remember that “hbd denial costs human lives.” i sincerely wish — for the sake of the people in iraq, for the sake of everyone — that people would wake up to this fact.

(note: comments do not require an email. erbil, iraq – inhabited for 8,000 years.)

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22 Comments

  1. @pseudoerasmus – “Oh you are applying pressure on me ! And to think I was working on it at a leisurely pace…”

    heh! sorry. =P no rush! really!

    Reply

  2. ” if you were to take a group of long term outbreeders — like northwest europeans — and set them to marrying their cousins, they would not begin to behave like clannish, nepotistic inbreeders in one generation. i don’t think.”

    On a scale of centuries, wouldn’t you say (4-to-20 generations)? Or maybe 4 should be replaced by 8?

    Reply

  3. Might be a bit of cart before the horse here in cause and effect.

    Tribalism does encourage this inbreeding ( family > clan > tribe ), but I don’t think this inbreeding causes tribalism.

    Chalk this up to another nasty effect of tribalism, and another reason trust-based civilizations are superior and more resilient.

    ( Civilizations, as a rule, don’t fall to barbs until the trust that glues them together is gone )

    Reply

  4. I’m curious as to what the marriage traditions of the Assyrians and Chaldeans are. It could give a glimpse into the pre-Islamic mores… The Nestorians in particular give the vibe of not being much influenced by Western Christianity at all.

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  5. You are right about all this of course. I didn’t see it at the time. I approved of The Younger Bush’s experiment to inject Western style democracy into the Middle East. But that was before I read Nicolas Wade’s explanation of how tribalism is opposed by statism. And before I pondered the messages of this blog.

    When I read ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ a half century ago I admired the Arab rejection of state authority. There is a scene in the movie where Anthony Quale says that British troops would stay through the winter to fight as he watches the Arab irregulars go home. Anthony Quinn as Adua abu Tayi says – ‘They are not free to do so’. That struck me as marvelous.

    Now I see – partly from your blog – that it is also just that those Arabs were simply genetically as yet unready for a modern state. Marry your cousin for a millennium and you become more tribal.

    This is not good news. It would have been better that democracy and the other characteristics of a modern state had stuck. States have less violence than tribes. I doubt if many Republicans much less Democrats realize that. We are going to have to abandon the crusade to bring democracy to the heathen. Alas the alternative looks like systematic annihilation.

    The world is moving forward very fast these days. Peoples who are not capable of living in it, won’t do well. Currently we have a tribalistic black man with sympathy for Islam in the oval office. But that is a temporary situation. He’ll be gone soon. We stopped Nazism. We stopped Japanese militarism. We even stopped communism. But we have failed to modernize the Arabs. An American fix seems to require that the fixee have an appropriate genome.

    Americans have lost their taste for ‘boots on the ground’. In the longer run the genetic pattern of the Arabs which seems to make them so difficult to assimilate into the modern world, is likely to doom they to being under our bombers. A Democrat administration could wage a war from the skies on Syria or Iraq and it would likely never be shown on CNN. Use drones and there would be no returning ‘Wounded Warriors’. We have debt problems of course but bombing’s cheap.

    Cochran and Harpending have convinced me that human evolution operates faster than we formerly thought – but not fast enough. As late as 2000 I thought it was going to be peace and prosperity endlessly into the rosy future.

    Reply

  6. If one goes up the chain of authority, eventually the top is reached. In the case of Iraq, the top, until we “toppled” him, was Saddam Hussein. For many years, SH managed to hold that mishmash of a tribal country together … coercively. But that begs the question, doesn’t it, of the role of coercion in forging identity. At some point on the vertical chain of authority, a man — usually — has the power to coerce his underlings into new loyalties, such as to the abstract state of Iraq. If the uppermost links in the chain think more broadly/internationally than the lower links, in spite of their cousin marriage pasts, and thus make, say, treaties with other countries that those down the ladder are expected to support, doesn’t this move at least the top of the country into a western-like orientation?

    The people at the bottom of the chain still have loyalties circumscribed by their inbred families. For now. To the extent that democratic tradition require people to put aside self-interest for the sake of the greater whole, I’d argue that not only is this less common in our own country, but, perhaps, more common in the Mideast.

    Reply

  7. this is not something automatic or something that can be changed overnight. if you were to take a group of long term outbreeders — like northwest europeans — and set them to marrying their cousins, they would not begin to behave like clannish, nepotistic inbreeders in one generation. i don’t think. we’re probably talking about an evolutionary process here, so you’d have to let a little natural selection take its course. you’d have to allow for the relatedness between individuals in the population to change and for the dynamics within the society to change

    In the case of undoing the effects of inbreeding, I think you’d see the societal effect happen sooner, as once people start marrying third or fourth cousins instead of first or second cousins, those people are now close relatives, and the social pressure to include them in the circle of kin altruism will be fairly strong, even if the selective pressure isn’t so much.

    Reply

  8. @luke – “On a scale of centuries, wouldn’t you say (4-to-20 generations)? Or maybe 4 should be replaced by 8?”

    four or eight would be way too short to effect any real change. unless you had some sort of extreme selection pressures, but those don’t usually exist in natural populations — more in artificial selection scenarios.

    twenty might do it. definitely forty or fifty, i think. (^_^)

    Reply

  9. @kristophr – “Tribalism does encourage this inbreeding ( family > clan > tribe ), but I don’t think this inbreeding causes tribalism.”

    nope. seems to be just the opposite.

    see, for instance, what happened when european tribal populations stopped inbreeding — have a look at the “mating patterns in europe series” below in the left-hand column. start with this post: whatever happened to european tribes?

    Reply

  10. @spike – “I’m curious as to what the marriage traditions of the Assyrians and Chaldeans are. It could give a glimpse into the pre-Islamic mores… The Nestorians in particular give the vibe of not being much influenced by Western Christianity at all.”

    yes, i’m curious, too! morony (the historian i quoted in the post) says the nestorians in the 600s had, indeed, banned some close marriages, which would be in line with what the roman catholic church was doing in europe (beginning in the early 500s). unfortunately, morony doesn’t specify which close relative marriages the nestorians banned by their canon laws — uncle-niece? cousins? i dunno. i’ll have to try to find out! (^_^)

    Reply

  11. @patrick – “The world is moving forward very fast these days. Peoples who are not capable of living in it, won’t do well.”

    well, that’s the thing. there are all sorts of populations out there that will simply have difficulties with the modern world and the western version of it.

    i say we let them be and let them carry on with whatever system suits them best, and good luck to them! to think otherwise — and to try and force our system on other groups — is just asking for trouble. as super misdreavus said, “hbd denial costs human lives.” =/

    Reply

  12. @hermy – “If one goes up the chain of authority, eventually the top is reached. In the case of Iraq, the top, until we ‘toppled’ him, was Saddam Hussein. For many years, SH managed to hold that mishmash of a tribal country together … coercively.”

    yes. to get clannish people to unite, you typically need some sort of charismatic leader — or a tyrannical one like saddam or gaddafi. but one man’s tyrant is another’s man’s charismatic leader, of course…. (~_^)

    mohammed was one of these charismatic leaders. and what happened when he died? the whole movement fell apart — sunni vs. shia — everyone arguing who should take over as leader. and they’re still arguing about that today.

    Reply

  13. @anthony – “…and the social pressure to include them in the circle of kin altruism will be fairly strong, even if the selective pressure isn’t so much.”

    possibly!

    Reply

  14. Another great post, but I am not sure if my readers are ready for concepts like FBD–as opposed to simple cousin marriage of any type—they need some more preparation.

    I will check those diagrams again–but again, blogging about actual new events when something like Iraq is happening leaves you VERY little time.

    Sadly (for the residents of Iraq) it will likely bog down like Syria and people (and news outlets) will tend to lose interest.

    But maybe not. Syria does not have all that oil, for one thing.

    Furthermore, the most sacred shrines for the Shia are in southern Iraq (Karbala, Najaf–the Shia-Sunni split started here). And that means Iran is VERY interested. I would say–based on what I have read–that if the shrines are threatened, Iran will definitely sent large numbers of fighters.

    But it may not get that far. ISIS has been helped local Sunni elements who resent Maliki. Even some old Baathists (Saddam-era) have co-operated–and not because they are interested in a Caliphate either. As in Syria, the Sunnis may start fighting with each other.

    Reply

  15. i say we let them be and let them carry on with whatever system suits them best, and good luck to them! to think otherwise — and to try and force our system on other groups — is just asking for trouble.

    I quite agree. It seems to me that the situation today favors neo-isolationism. But the bad guys don’t seem likely to leave us alone. At the height of the Cold War the only thing we really had to fear was an all out nuclear attack on America or insurgencies against our allies. No one thought that the Soviets would blow up a mall in Tulsa.

    But there are plenty of groups today who are plotting to do actions just like that. I agree we should just leave them alone. But will they get the message? Will they leave us alone? They seem only to eager to attack us here in our homeland. No administration can long endure a series of small but deadly terrorist attacks. What can we do?

    I think we may never again send live human troops to the Middle East. But we will have to do something. Human soldiers may very well be obsolete anyway. Just as human flown aircraft and aircraft carriers are more or less obsolete already. We are very close to having the capability of dropping semi-autonomous robot soldiers from drones. The robot soldiers are not anthropomorphic. They don’t look like Schwarzenegger with his disguising skin blown off. They are simple cheap light weight tracked vehicles that can fire an assault rifle. You can see them on YouTube now.

    You could kill one of these vehicles with artillery, but not I think with small arms fire. Drop a few thousand of these anywhere and no one will dare go outside. They are like roving anti-personnel mines.

    America always starts off fighting in as ‘nice’ a fashion as possible. At First Bull Run the wives came from Washington to see the show and have a picnic. Later in the war Sherman vowed to ‘Make Georgia Howl’. He launched an attack aimed at civilians – exactly the opposite of today’s concerns for surgical strikes and avoiding collateral damage. Sherman fought so as to maximize collateral damage.

    Before WWII bombing a city was considered an atrocity. Later we cheerfully fire bombed Dresden and Tokyo. We like to argue about the morality of Hiroshima today but it would have been seen as completely appropriate to the war weary US populace in 1945. Had they had the vote on war plans – we would have wanted us to drop more A Bombs.

    We have much, much worse weapons now than we had back then. We are of course reluctant to use them, but that can change. That’s why it is a tragedy that Bush’s noble experiment to democratize the Middle East didn’t work.

    Reply

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