‘There may be some evidence that cousins marrying one another can be harmful,’ he told an audience at the Hay Festival.
‘We should be concerned about that as there can be a lot of hidden genetic damage. Children are much more likely to get two copies of a damaged gene. ‘Bradford is very inbred. There is a huge amount of cousins marrying each other there.’
The problem occurs not as a result of a one off marriage between cousins, but rather through persistent inbreeding.
He was criticised by Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation:
‘I know many Muslims who have married their cousins and none of them have had a problem with their children. ‘Obviously, we don’t want any children to be born disabled who don’t need to be born disabled, so I would advise genetic screening before first cousins marry.
‘But I find Steve Jones’s comments unworthy of a professor. Using language like “inbreeding” to describe cousins marrying is completely inappropriate and further demonises Muslims.’
Mr. Shafiq has often condemned practices such as forced marriages and ‘honour’ killings, so is no Anjem-Choudary-rent-a-quote, and he advocates screenings, but I think he is wrong about this. Not all cousin marriages lead to children with disabilities. Nor are the children somehow lesser as a result. Yet nobody wants children to be born with serious health conditions, and British Pakistanis were between nine and thirteen times more likely on average to have a children with recessive disorders than the rest of the populace. Given that 55% marry their cousins, it is not unreasonable to call that inbreeding, especially as people who marry their cousins tend to who have children who are more likely to do the same, thus perpetuating the problem.
Raising a serious public health issue is not demonising a community. Anyone who watched the Disptaches programme on this last year would have been struck by the refusal of many interviewed to even concede that there might have been a genetic issue, whilst others spoke of a culture of fear the last time this was subject to a big campaign in the 1990s.
Nor did Professor Jones just look at Pakistanis, talking about how there is more inbreeding throughout the country then in generally realised:
“We are all more incestuous than we realise.
“In Northern Ireland lots of people share the same surname which suggests a high level of inbreeding.
“There’s a lot of surname diversity in London but if you look at the Outer Herbrides there are rather fewer surnames in relation to the number of people.”
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