Dispatches: when cousins marry


by Rumbold
23rd August, 2010 at 9:24 pm    

Dispatches today broadcast an investigation into first cousin marriages in the UK. The focus was on the British Pakistani community, where first cousin marriages are most prevalent. British Pakistanis make up around 1.5% of the population, but children born in this country to British Pakistanis account for around 33% of rare recessive genetic disorders. British Pakistani children are three times more likely to have learning difficulties. First cousin marriages in isolation don’t have a massive effect, but when they happen more than once the consequences can be severe, and this is the issue facing many British Pakistanis today.

Tazeen Ahmad, the presenter, was of British Pakistani stock and has a history of genetic disorder in her family; her grandparents were first cousins, three of her uncles were born deaf and five of her aunties died in their first few years. Ms. Ahmad focused on attitudes to first cousin marriage, why it was happening and what could be done about it.

There are a number of reasons for first cousin marriages continuing, despite the research into the genetic impact. Standard cultural ones include keeping property within the family, familiarity with one’s intended spouse and strengthening bonds between different branches. Younger British Pakistanis confessed to pressure and emotional blackmail when it came to cousin marriage, with the izzat (‘honour’) of the family being stressed.

Yet the interviews also revealed a high level of denial and ignorance. First cousins who married (somewhat understandably) refused to accept that this could have been the reason for their children’s disability, blaming instead fate or Western medicine. Others pointed to non-disabled children as the result of cousin marriages as evidence that there was no link, and kept insisting that there was no information available on the subject. One religious ‘scholar’ refused point blank to consider any medical evidence, then repeatedly claimed he was not aware of any evidence. One man said simply: “why wouldn’t you want to marry your cousin?”

Ms Ahmad asked (as did others), why this issue wasn’t discussed enough, and why there isn’t a public campaign for it, especially as the last campaign was in the 1990s. The main reasons were a fear of offence and an ad hoc approach. The person who led the campaign in 1997 spoke of people tearing up the leaflets or writing counter messages on them. No MP whose constituency is significantly affected by this would speak out, with former MP Ann Cryer, one of the few politicians to make a stand on the matter, pointing out that those MPs did not wish to alienate a powerful voting block.

What then can be done, and is being done, about the problem? In many areas the health focus has shifted to advising individual families. A GPs’ surgery in Birmingham (where the doctors are British Pakistanis) is actively discouraging cousin marriages, and working with religious leaders to amplify the message. Other religious figures (such as an imam in Forest Gate) preach to their congregations on the dangers. What other barriers are there though?

Salma Yaqoob condemned the practice and warned that the fight against cousin marriages has become politicised. Others picked up on this, saying that campaigning against things like terrorism and forced marriage in the British Pakistani community has led to a siege mentality, with criticism of first cousin marriage being seen as an attack on the community. This seemed a somewhat weak argument, given the hostility to the last campaign, which occurred before the focus on terrorism or forced marriage (in 1997).

Where should the focus be now? Doctors and health professionals should talk about the risks more, but as the programme showed, medical evidence is not enough, as plenty of people will just ignore the evidence even when it is presented to them. Religious leaders should be co-opted in, and politicians need to be more willing to speak out on it, even if they risk upsetting some voters.


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  1. Stranger Than Fiction — on 23rd August, 2010 at 9:43 pm  

    If this is such a hot issue and “politicians need to be more willing to speak out”, then where is the ‘hacktivist and movement lefty’ Sunny Hundal on this issue?

    Why isn’t he using the clout he weilds on this blog and especially on Liberal Conspiracy to get ‘lefties’ more involved in campaigning on this public health issue?

    Most of the MPs with large Pakistani constituencies are Labour MPs, so his efforts would go a long way to encouraging them to be more open about the problem.

    Instead he has left it to Rumbold to ask futile questions. What a waste of an opportunity.

  2. Stranger Than Fiction — on 23rd August, 2010 at 9:45 pm  

    Oh, and the Google ad above touting ‘Pakistani Girls UK’ is pretty tasteless under the circumstances.

  3. earwicga — on 23rd August, 2010 at 10:53 pm  

    It’s Brazilian girls now STF.

    Rumbold – does this figure ‘British Pakistani children are three times more likely to have learning difficulties.’ take into account social and other factors?

  4. Naadir Jeewa — on 23rd August, 2010 at 11:22 pm  

    As much as I agree with this, there might be an issue with the statistics, and yet again, Bayesian priors rear their head.

    “British Pakistanis make up around 1.5% of the population, but children born in this country to British Pakistanis account for around 33% of rare recessive genetic disorders.”

    How much of that 33% is attributable to genetic inheritance?

    Birth rates for Pakistanis were until recently, fairly high, as for other ethnic populations. In 1997, this was 13% versus 1% for White Europeans.
    This leads to a rough posterior probability that is close to that in the NYT article – 2.5x the normal rate of genetically inherited disorders for first-cousin marriage, not 33 times the rate. That isn’t much higher, and probably lower than many other lifestyle-related morbidity risks, such as smoking or obesity, so it’s not surprising that people don’t take the threat seriously.

    That the risks aren’t phenomenally high shouldn’t be surprising since first cousin marriage is a long-running feature of human life.

  5. Don — on 24th August, 2010 at 12:09 am  

    How much of that 33% is attributable to genetic inheritance?

    Well, if it is a recessive genetic disorder, then surely all of it?

  6. Naadir Jeewa — on 24th August, 2010 at 12:17 am  

    Don:
    Oh sorry, I meant genetic inheritance caused by cross-cousin marriage. Eek.

    The pedant may bring up mutations though.

  7. douglas clark — on 24th August, 2010 at 1:10 am  

    Naadir Jeewa,

    OK, I have read what you had to say @ 4. But medical professionals are allegedly saying that this is a big issue. It is ‘first cousin’ marriages that cause this.

    Either they are right – and I’d have thought their professional competence relied on getting that accurate – or they are wrong. I seem to recall this being an issue a few years ago too.

    Id have thought – and correct me if I am wrong – that if a relatively small population group is accounting for a massive contribution to a national statistic, then something is awry?

    No?

  8. damon — on 24th August, 2010 at 1:29 am  

    I saw the programme and wondered if it was just more Dispatches sensationalism. Not that the ignorance of one Imam wasn’t quite shocking. And the denial of two sets of parents. But it could be argued ”what’s the point” in documentaries like this? Or ”Undercover Mosque” and all the others they’ve had. To make muslims look backward?

    The interviews with some young people were telling.
    They said that their own parents were the type to try to force them to marry against their will.
    It’s just something your mum and did: ”After all we’ve done for you” they joked about how their parents emotionaly blackmailed them.

  9. douglas clark — on 24th August, 2010 at 1:49 am  

    damon @ 8,

    It is either the case that there is a greatly increased risk of children of parents of a close relationship – cousins for instance, being prone to genetic disorders – or there isn’t.

    It has absolutely nothing to do with attributing ‘backwardness’ to folk. It is about familiarising them with the risks, if it exists. And there appears to be evidence that there is a risk.

    So, if cup cakes caused cancer, would you expect anyone to ‘know’ that in advance of being ‘told’?

    No, you wouldn’t, and neither would I.

    Human beings are capable of making rational decisions on the basis of well-founded evidence.

    Whist this quite typical ‘denial’ is within the Muslim community, there have been similar ‘denials’ elsewhere about vaccinations and stuff. It is beyond understanding why religious or communoty leaders are listened to on any health subject whatsoever.

    Come to that, on any subject whatsoever.

    Just away to have a fag….

  10. Salsa Dancing — on 24th August, 2010 at 3:17 am  

    This practice has got the stop, I am a muslim, and I’m appauled that this stuff goes on despite the science.

    Sure, first cousin marriages were common before, and I’m sure everyone has some instances of first cousin marriage in their family tree. Didn’t charles darwin marry his first cousin after doing all his work in genetics?

    But how can you ignore the science? How can you give your child a near death ticket or a very difficult life? [which is much worse than death IMO].

    I only watched the first 10 minutes of it, because I felt completely riled and squeamish from watching people with disabilities and diformities that should not happen.

    This is what happens when people from the villages emigrate to towns and cities, they don’t change, and stay the same.

    Anyone questioning these findings, or even contemplating that the statistics maybe be “biased” in some way, is severely in denial.

    I hasd a first cousin marriage in my family, we never had any complications in our family before, but surprise surprise one first cousin marriage and plenty of complications. I don’t need to see the “science”, I have seen it with my own eyes.

    Yes, you might end up with a disabled, blind, mentally challenged child, even if the parents are NOT related, but just the fact that you can double or treble the chances of that happening from marrying first cousins is enough for me to never contemplate it.

  11. j.stoddart — on 24th August, 2010 at 4:28 am  

    aside from the truly awful possible consequences to children. cousin marriage is also a bad thing for society, especialy if it’s rigidly adhered to..by strengthening bonds just within the family you’re limiting the possibilities of very different families coming together and forming bonds of kinship and love. just look at the problems inter-racial couples face in traditional socieities.

  12. j.stoddart — on 24th August, 2010 at 4:30 am  

    @7,

    also, first cousin marriage is unlawful in a number of us states so there must be some basis for it.

  13. j.stoddart — on 24th August, 2010 at 4:38 am  

    @9
    i think so called religious leaders often don’t want to rock the boat. some of the s.asians mosques are heavily controlled by boards of directors (some of whom are more cultural then religious in outlook) who could easily force out an imam who challenged their cultural practies.

  14. j.stoddart — on 24th August, 2010 at 4:54 am  

    would it be right to assume that, where the perpetrator of abuse in south asian marriages is the new bride’s mother-in-law, this would be more common in marriages where the mother-in -law is not your relative?

    if non-cousin marriage were to be encouraged (and i think it should be)it would be necessary to also campaign against exorbitant dowries (as this is a factor driving people towards the cheaper cousin marriage) and also encourage separate accomodation for the couple as a non related bride might be more at risk of ill treatment form a mother-in law than a related bride. it will be vital that the parents of children who are set to wed stop idealising cousin marriage and demonsing unrelated brides as cold and unacaring.

  15. Bored in Kavanagasau — on 24th August, 2010 at 11:42 am  

    I met up with some friends recently who came down from the North to announce they were having a baby. They joked about having to declare whether they were blood relatives: the husband is 2nd generation Irish and the wife is Dutch Chinese. On a related note, one of the things I was surprised by was the anxieties that British Born Chinese friends had about announcing to their parents that they were going out with someone of a different ethnicity; it seems counter-intuitive that such anxieties would exist given the rate of intermarriage from British Chinese families, but then again not many people pay attention to these and each family is different, although Chinese parents, even religiously conservative ones, have consented. Sadly, in a lot of South Asian families, where even marrying another “brown” person of a different religion is considered a significant “out” marriage, those same anxieties have been justified. Parents can’t take all the blame: I’m surprised how bullishly conservative 2nd generation British Asians are in their attitudes towards arranged marriage, opposition to “out” marriage and towards homosexuality.

    I’m not convinced that arguing along medical grounds, effectively painting a picture of Bradford in twenty years as a scene from the hills have eyes, is ethical. I don’t have any child relatives with serious illness, but I would oppose argument against cousin marriage along the lines of “the children are such a drain on the NHS”. It could open a pandoras box where the costs involved in the actions of particular minorities through the criminal justice system, housing benefits, facilitating illegal immigration and national security could be considered in addition to national health. Why not use anti-racist cultural arguments against the practice; the same arguments would also apply against arranged marriage so would not be seen as being specifically anti-Pakistani.

    There is a double-standard in that if a similar documentary had been filmed in Alabama many people would be happy to ridicule the protagonists in such marriages as racist, inbred “rednecks” from hicksville. As we are dealing with “brown” people though, the issue must be dealt with sensitively to avoid accusation of racism.

  16. MaidMarian — on 24th August, 2010 at 11:52 am  

    Rumbold – I don’t think that the health arguments carry an awful lot of weight here. I would guess that people in such marriages are fully cognisant of the risks. They regard it as a risk worth running given cultural heritages. I would however add that denouncing any campaign to highlight the risks as ‘anti-Pakistan’ seems to me to speak to an approach that seeks to assert racial victimhood first and ask questions later.

    Like smoking, people were fully aware of the health risks, it was not until another factor – price – came along that smoking fell away.

    Cousin marriage is either legal or it is not. There really is no more to say.

  17. damon — on 24th August, 2010 at 11:54 am  

    Salsa Dancing, as you only watched the first ten minutes, you missed one family explaining how it made the extended family all the more closer.
    And how on a sunday (in Bradford or somewhere) all the aunties and sisters and cousins would all hang out at one another’s houses and they were one big happy family because they were all so closely related.
    They all seemed to like that aspect of it.

    The figure for Bradford at 75% is really quite shocking though. They never mentioned what percentage of this 75% was to a spouce from Britain or Pakistan – as that obviously has a lot of influence on what the Bradford Pakistani community is actually like.
    The more people who join it direct from Pakistan, the more the community will have the outlook of a pakistan village.

  18. Don — on 24th August, 2010 at 12:14 pm  

    Douglas makes a good point @9. The anti-vaccination scare took in thousands of well-educated, modern-minded parents who had been presented with solid evidence by experts, but who decided to follow the line of one dubious scientist and a handfull of ill-informed and irresopsible journalists. Accurate information isn’t enough if people are inclined against that conclusion.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2010.00588.x/abstract

    And as it is not a religious dictate then religious leaders – even those on board – will probably have limited impact.

    MM,
    Like smoking, people were fully aware of the health risks, it was not until another factor – price – came along that smoking fell away.

    I suspect that the growing social disapproval and the exclusion of smoking from public spaces had more to do with it.

  19. Kismet Hardy — on 24th August, 2010 at 12:18 pm  

    As someone who dated a Pakistani girl for five years (and before anyone trumpets first-cousin marriages aren’t exclusively a Pakistani thing in the UK, well, the odd exception in Bangladesh and Indian communities doesn’t count for jack) and saw two little babies suffer (one passed away) because of first-cousin marriage, I for one don’t give a hoot about whether Dispatches is sensationalising this issue or not. This practice exclusively (and again, the odd exceptions counts for jack shit) is one made by the (dis)respective families and denies the woman any choice to say, ‘er, no. He’s my cousin. Have you all gone stark raving fucking mad?’

    Barbaric old shit.

  20. MaidMarian — on 24th August, 2010 at 1:04 pm  

    Don – Maybe, but that is not the same as the health risks.

  21. sofia — on 24th August, 2010 at 1:26 pm  

    I think the issue needs to be looked at in the way sickle cell is now being highlighted in black commuities. There was and is stigma with being tested for traits but it better informed would be parents.
    This was done sensitively and with the cooperation of local communities working in their own areas. There was no sensationalisation or picking on communities..rather coming from a place of understanding.

    The first cousin marriage thing is a long standing cultural practice that with the right input and long term planning be tackled effectively

  22. MaidMarian — on 24th August, 2010 at 1:37 pm  

    sofia – There are actually many health conditions that have, for one reason or another, a higher preponderance in ethnic communities. Black Afro-Caribbean men for example are far more likely to have diabetes than other groups. In that sense the first-cousin thing is not per se unusual.

    The health aspect is a red-herring here.

  23. sofia — on 24th August, 2010 at 1:48 pm  

    I don’t think the health aspect is a red herring at all. If there were no health issues then what IS the issue with first cousin marriages? My point was the approach since some people have said that pakistanis will feel stigmatised etc if they have campaigns to discourage this practice.

  24. sofia — on 24th August, 2010 at 1:50 pm  

    Also with health initiatives aimed at AFrican and Caribbean communities have also been few and far between for whatever condition. It’s only relatively recently that dietary advice aimed at these communities took into account that we don’t all eat bangers and mash.

  25. MaidMarian — on 24th August, 2010 at 1:54 pm  

    ‘Also with health initiatives aimed at AFrican and Caribbean communities have also been few and far between for whatever condition.’

    They have actually been very well established in certain parts of the country. They are just not as high-profile. Diet is not as interesting to the media as muslim culture, rightly or wrongly.

  26. Kismet Hardy — on 24th August, 2010 at 1:55 pm  

    Little evolutionary fact, might be relevant: black and asian people developed an immunity to malaria for obvious reasons, but as a down side, became susceptible to sickle cell anemia

  27. sofia — on 24th August, 2010 at 2:02 pm  

    Maid marian I don’t think you’re getting my point. Can you please give me examples of ‘very well established’ health initiatives please?

    Kismet – yup I’ve only highlighted the black communities here because it affects these communities in more numbers. It of course affects mediterranean and Asian families too and it is thought that further down the generations it will start to affect those with African or Caribbean heritage who themselves may be white in appearance.

  28. sofia — on 24th August, 2010 at 2:05 pm  

    And maidmarian the fact that these well establised initiatives are not highly publicised is a disgrace in itself if you’re thinking that sharing best practice saves money and lives. It also begs the question that if diabetes, heart disease and stroke, are significantly more prevalent in these communities, why is not more done on a long term national level to incorporate these communities in health promotion.

  29. MaidMarian — on 24th August, 2010 at 2:12 pm  

    Off the top of my head, Barts and the London has (or at least had) a pretty good outreach programme for diabetes. There is plenty of good practice sharing in the NHS, just it is not done via the media or to placate diversity campaigners.

  30. Niels Christensen — on 24th August, 2010 at 2:18 pm  

    ‘Salma Yaqoob condemned the practice and warned that the fight against cousin marriages has become politicised’
    Isn’t it politics every time society and the state tries to change the behavior of the population, or some subgroups. Yaqoob surely doesn’t know anything about the historical development of western europe.
    There is a rather new piece of norwegian research in this area, which is
    summarized in the link below in english.Norway has the same problems.
    http://islamineurope.blogspot.com/2010/08/norway-pakistani-children-at-risk-of.html

  31. sofia — on 24th August, 2010 at 2:43 pm  

    lol @ good practice sharing in the nhs..don’t make me laugh..even the nhs admits that there isn’t enough sharing of best practice and duplication of stupid initiatives is rife…hence the need to spend millions on ‘specialist’ consultants.

    So Barts has a pretty good outreach programme for diabetes? can you define pretty good? and can you give me a link to their findings..of course diversity campaigners do have certain standards to measure local initiatives so indeed they do need to be robust..or would you expect lower standards when it comes to black people?

  32. sofia — on 24th August, 2010 at 2:44 pm  

    I’m glad you were able to fine one initiative..remind me how many people from minority ethnic communities there are in this country?

  33. damon — on 24th August, 2010 at 3:09 pm  

    It’s fine saying that the prospective couples should be given advice and screened for possible incompatibility, as one GP in that programme was already doing, but when told the chances of them having a child with health problems is one in four or one in ten or whatever, and you get people who are not even married yet saying: ”One in four? That means we’ve got a 75% chance of having a normal baby” – which is a mood I did pick up from the programme, then you’d have to say that is entirely irresponsible to go ahead with such a marriage and take the chance.

    And I guess that it’s about here that defensiveness and resentment at outsiders judging the community will surface.

  34. sofia — on 24th August, 2010 at 3:42 pm  

    Damon – you have to give informed choice. There are plenty of other conditions (not minority ethnic specific) that have similar stats and patients still go on to get pregnant. You can’t stop people, you can give them the evidence and then say it’s up to you.

  35. Nondescript American — on 24th August, 2010 at 3:55 pm  

    Naadir Jeewa @ 4, you’ve got your birth rates wrong. Pakistanis do have a higher birth rate but it’s not 13 times higher. I think it’s more like a factor of two.

  36. Nondescript American — on 24th August, 2010 at 3:58 pm  

    j.stoddart @ 12, most of the laws in the United States were passed before 1920. They didn’t realize that the risk only rises from 3% to 6% for one first-cousin marriage. Of course, today I don’t think we realize that either, since opportunists in the media don’t want to publicize it.

  37. Nondescript American — on 24th August, 2010 at 4:09 pm  

    Tazeen Ahmad’s work was grossly misleading. See this page for the facts:

    http://peoplewithvoices.com/2010/08/24/politicizing-cousin-marriages-plays-into-the-hands-of-the-far-right/

    The rate of birth defects after a single first-cousin marriage is roughly the same as a mother faces due to her age when she gives birth at age 41. Yet we do not talk about whether mothers should be legally banned from having kids near menopause.

    Much of the Pakistani situation is not due to present cousin marriage at all but lurking “population subdivision” in different Pakistani groups. See Wikipedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cousin_marriage#Genetics

    “The increased mortality and birth defects observed among British Pakistanis may, however, have another source besides current consanguinity. This is population subdivision among different Pakistani groups. Population subdivision results from decreased gene flow among different groups in a population. Because members of Pakistani biradari have married only inside these groups for generations, offspring have higher average homozygosity even for couples with no known genetic relationship.[190]“

  38. Niels Christensen — on 24th August, 2010 at 4:45 pm  

    “The rate of birth defects after a single first-cousin marriage is roughly the same as a mother faces due to her age when she gives birth at age 41. Yet we do not talk about whether mothers should be legally banned from having kids near menopause.”
    But they do get warned about the risk.
    What many here demand, is that you don’t talk about it.
    But of course Islam is a culture of silence.

  39. Rumbold — on 24th August, 2010 at 4:47 pm  

    Stranger Than Fiction:

    I am not sure what your criticism is aimed at. This is Sunny’s blog, so he is publicising it. There is no point us both writing about it.

    Earwicga and Naadir:

    I am not sure how the figures are complied. However, they would seem to be statistically significant enough even if other factors are taken into account (given that the other factors would probably only have a limited impact). I will try and find out more though. Thank you.

    MaidMarian:

    I would guess that people in such marriages are fully cognisant of the risks. They regard it as a risk worth running given cultural heritages.

    Some are, some aren’t. As the programme showed, there are plenty of people who simply refused to believe the evidence.

    Sofia:

    How would you go about implementing your strategy for dealing with this issue? The was a campaign back in 1997 but they came under fire from local communities. Certain initatives seem to be working well in certain areas but should/can they be replicated on a national scale?

    Nondescript American:

    The rate of birth defects after a single first-cousin marriage is roughly the same as a mother faces due to her age when she gives birth at age 41. Yet we do not talk about whether mothers should be legally banned from having kids near menopause.

    A single first cousin marriage is just about okay (as the piece I linked to shows)- the problem is repeated intermarriage, which is far more common amongst British Pakistani than other groups. No doubt population subdivision has added to this, but this makes it all the more important that this cycle of intermarriage is broken.

  40. MaidMarian — on 24th August, 2010 at 4:53 pm  

    Rumbold – ‘Some are, some aren’t. As the programme showed, there are plenty of people who simply refused to believe the evidence.’

    Yes. I think that my point is that it is not the place of government to legislate for stupidity. Mariage after all is not really something the state should be getting too involved in. The government has a role in making the information available.

    Beyond that, it is legal or it is not.

    Sofia – Why the hissy fit?

  41. Rumbold — on 24th August, 2010 at 4:58 pm  

    MaidMarian:

    I don’t want legislation either. But it is other people (i.e. the children) who suffer as a result, which to my mind justifies committing resources and political capital to the fight against it. Thus it moves from being merely an freedom of choice issue (since they are mostly consenting adults) to being about something more.

  42. Erik Scavenius — on 24th August, 2010 at 5:26 pm  

    Niels Christensen
    “But of course Islam is a culture of silence.”

    Presumably Judaism is too since cousin marriages are permitted and practicised there too.

    http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/arts/anthropology/tutor/case_studies/hebrews/marriage.html#parallel

    http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/arts/anthropology/tutor/case_studies/hebrews/marriage.html

  43. Erik Scavenius — on 24th August, 2010 at 5:27 pm  

    Is cousin marriage icky? Why? You can’t appeal to Victorian morality; Queen Victoria married her first cousin. You can’t appeal to the Bible; in the Bible, God commands marriages between first cousins. Instead, advocates of laws against cousin marriage appeal to science. To let cousins marry, they argue, is “to play Russian roulette with genetics.” Many genetic diseases are caused by recessive genes. To get the disease, you have to get the bad gene from both parents. The greater the genetic similarity between your parents, the greater your chance of getting two copies of the bad gene.
    http://www.slate.com/id/2064227

  44. Erik Scavenius — on 24th August, 2010 at 5:27 pm  

    Is cousin marriage icky? Why? You can’t appeal to Victorian morality; Queen Victoria married her first cousin. You can’t appeal to the Bible; in the Bible, God commands marriages between first cousins. Instead, advocates of laws against cousin marriage appeal to science. To let cousins marry, they argue, is “to play Russian roulette with genetics.” Many genetic diseases are caused by recessive genes. To get the disease, you have to get the bad gene from both parents. The greater the genetic similarity between your parents, the greater your chance of getting two copies of the bad gene.

    But if that’s your reason for banning cousin marriage, you’ve drilled into a mother lode of problems. Many cousin couples can’t pass on genetic diseases, since they’re infertile. Are you going to ban them from marrying? If not, maybe the 24 states that ban cousin marriage should follow the lead of the five states that allow it if either party is sterile. And if procreation between first cousins is too dangerous, why stop there? Six states ban marriage between first cousins once removed, i.e., marrying the son or daughter of your first cousin. Theoretically, that’s half as risky as marrying your first cousin, in terms of increasing the probability of passing on a genetic disease to your kids. How about marriage between second cousins? Theoretically, that’s one-fourth as risky. No state bans such marriages. Should we change that?

  45. Kismet Hardy — on 24th August, 2010 at 5:35 pm  

    “But of course Islam is a culture of silence.”

    It’s actually more a community issue, and the ones that stand by cousin marriages don’t really see any need to stay quiet about it

  46. Don — on 24th August, 2010 at 6:10 pm  

    Erik,

    Also Christianity.

    The point surely is that the issue is multiple first-cousin marriages within a limited population. And as it seems that this is being driven by social and familial pressure, rather than individual inclination, then how can this social pressure towards a (now known) social ill be countered.

    Not by banning. How would you make it illegal? Nullify existing marriages? Have the state provide a data base of genetically acceptable partners? And if you actually fell in love with a first cousin, what would be the sanction? As salsa mentioned, Darwin married his first cousin (although genetics came later, so he didn’t know about that discipline) but only after agonising about the risks and concluding that they were small. Because it was a love match.

    Providing information will be of very limited value because, as I mentioned above, people tend to disregard information which challenges their existing belief systems.

    Rulings from religious scholars will probably be of limited use, as this is not a religious matter. In that, as far as I know, it is neither recommended nor condemned by any of the Abrahamic faiths.

    If young people had a genuine free choice about their partners there wouldn’t be a problem, such marriages would be relatively rare and as such relatively harmless.

    Young people have seen the horror and misery of repeated birth defects within their own families. It has been said that the worst thing in the world is for a parent to have to bury their child. But perhaps worse is for a parent to be driven to hope they outlive their child, as the alternative is too awful to contemplate.

    As Sofia has said there are other genetic risks, but if you are given the information and have a truly free choice that is a different matter from having the information and still feeling pressured (or somehow obliged) to take the chance. A woman in her forties faces a raised risk of birth defects, but is unlikely to have family and friends urging her to go ahead anyway. More likely they’d advise caution and serious medical checks.

    It has to be education and above all empowering* the young generation to be able to make their own choice of partner, and indeed life.

    *Not a word I like, but just this once.

  47. Nondescript American — on 24th August, 2010 at 7:53 pm  

    I don’t think that campaigns should be aimed explicitly at reducing the rate of first-cousin marriage; rather they should be aimed at reducing the rate of uninformed first-cousin marriage. One has to take into account that this is a feature of Middle Eastern kinship systems that has persisted for thousands of years. One need not look any further than the Bible and the celebrated example of Jacob marrying the daughter of his uncle Rachel to see this. This topic is not like smoking or drinking at all, rather it is part of these people’s deepest sense of who they are. I think we should provide accurate information, but that we must also step back and let them decide their own fate.

    Now the question that Don raises, which I think is a very good one, is how useful mere information is when others are impinging on your free choice. Probably not very useful. But there are two different issues at stake here. The first one is free choice itself. If you think that free choice is what ought to drive marriages, which is contrary to Islamic teaching requiring parental consent, that is one issue. But if you are only concerned about cousin marriage, then one solution is to educate the *parents*. Suprising as it may seem, Pakistani parents are not bloodthirsty sadists intent on punishing their children. If they are informed of the risks then some will no doubt encourage their children to choose other partners besides cousins.

  48. Kismet Hardy — on 24th August, 2010 at 8:20 pm  

    “Pakistani parents are not bloodthirsty sadists intent on punishing their children”

    Of course they’re not. But the close-minded ones that are hellbent on marrying their daughter off to a cousin because of promise, honour and culture? Good luck with that mate

  49. Nondescript American — on 24th August, 2010 at 8:47 pm  

    Rumbold @ 39 and Don @ 44, I do want to say thanks for acknolwedging the complicated nature of the issue. I am sure there will be differing opinions about what we should do, but if we cannot agree on the facts, there is no way to even communicate. I have to admit being incensed at the Ahmad piece saying that a single cousin marriage increased tenfold the risk of recessive disorders. Surely no one can be educated if the information being presented is itself not correct.

  50. Naadir Jeewa — on 24th August, 2010 at 10:17 pm  

    @35 – Yeah, that’s right. Stand corrected.

    Rumbold:
    Repeated intermarriage doesn’t mean the odds keep adding up until 100%, you get an equilibrium rate instead (we’d have long been wiped off the planet otherwise).
    For example, the major studies of the risk of infant mortality due to cousin marriage were actually conducted in Pakistan & are based on long-running cross-cousin marriages. The risk of infant mortality congenital disorders has been found to increase by 45% in consanguineous marriages. That’s an absolute increase from 2% to 3%. The NHS Evidence page on the topic is here.

    So, given that the absolute risk isn’t greater than other serious health problems affecting large populations, statements such as “of course Islam is a culture of silence,” seem to single out a certain group for irrationality rather than the simpler, universal explanation being one of everyday cognitive bias.

    Still, no one’s mentioned why cousin marriage has gone on the increase – cousin marriage is seen as an immigration shortcut to unite families over here at the expense of the children being married off.

    The way to tackle this is through immigration and international development policy, as well as raising the socioeconomic outcomes of the descendants of rural Pakistani immigrants who would then be empowered to tackle coercion by their parents. As Sunny’s whole work on the negative aspects of “community leaders” demonstrates time and time and again, we shouldn’t rely on these ‘redneck’ imaams who can barely speak English to support progressive policies.

  51. j.stoddart — on 24th August, 2010 at 11:41 pm  

    i have also been told that another factor driving the repeated cousin of marriages is the fact that by marrying a close relative, anything embarassing reains within the family…thus preserving honour or izzat.

  52. damon — on 25th August, 2010 at 1:32 am  

    I was wondering how the 75% figure for Pakistani muslims in Bradford worked out.
    The percentage of the marrigaes being two British people and those where it was a British person marrying someone from Pakistan.
    That, I can’t seem to find any figures for.
    The immigration angle that Naadir Jeewa just mentioned is of course part of it, but many of the first cousin marriages must be between two British too I’m guessing.
    Actually, I have no idea.

  53. Kismet Hardy — on 25th August, 2010 at 2:16 am  

    “but many of the first cousin marriages must be between two British”

    Nah, pretty much always a British Asian and one from back home

  54. Fedrico Lister — on 25th August, 2010 at 2:25 am  

    A one-off first cousin marriage engenders an extra risk of recessive genetic disorders of about 2x that of unrelated parents. But, the degree of consanguinity in Pakistanis is much higher (due to generations of cousin marriages) and the risk factor is nearer 10x.

    As mentioned above, cousin marriages are illegal in some US states, and also for Hindus in India, and were one illegal in England. A tenfold increase in recessive genetic disorders is ample justification for a ban. That would be the simplest solution.

  55. douglas clark — on 25th August, 2010 at 3:09 am  

    This is an interesting thread.

    For anyone that doesn’t know what this was about:

    Because members of Pakistani biradari have married only inside these groups for generations, offspring have higher average homozygosity even for couples with no known genetic relationship., it all hinges on the word homozygosity, doesn’t it?

    A word I expect you are as unfamiliar with as I.

    This is one definition:

    Homozygosity: The state of possessing two identical forms of a particular gene, one inherited from each parent.

    For example, a girl who is homozygous for cystic fibrosis (CF) received the CF gene from both of her parents and therefore she has CF.

    The opposite of homozygous is heterozygous, the possession of two different forms of a particular gene, one inherited from each parent. For example, the father and mother of a CF child are heterozygotes for cystic fibrosis (CF). Each carries one normal gene and one CF gene but has no signs or symptoms of the disease.

    We are getting into deep waters here.

    I suspect that parents from a common genetic background might, indeed, have common genes, and that the likelyhood that a child of a putative relationship between two people, each of whom has the same homozygous genes, might be a bad thing.

    But what do I know?

    Anyway, as Kismet Hardy pointed out way, way up this thread, @ 19, I think:

    This practice exclusively (and again, the odd exceptions counts for jack shit) is one made by the (dis)respective families and denies the woman any choice to say, ‘er, no. He’s my cousin. Have you all gone stark raving fucking mad?’

    I expect Kismit Hardy and I would get on like a house on fire if we were to ever meet.

    Rumbold would be better placed than me – almost anyone would be – but he has expertise in the subject, and you probably don’t.

    Anyway.

    To point out that European Aristocracy also practiced first cousin marriages, and look where that got us! Nations used as toys in their pathetic games.

    (Which is the spoilt and often destructive behaviour a psychologist with a degree might expect of first cousins, whether genetically deficient or not.)

    I leave you to your own conclusions.

    Please carry on.

    _______________________________

    This was an intermission brought to you by your local bullshit detector.

  56. Strength Training — on 25th August, 2010 at 4:59 am  

    I’m not sure how a outright ban would pan out, I don’t know this for a fact, but my gut feeling is that cousins marriages don’t tend to happen a lot between two british born asians, but tends to happen between a british born pakistani with a relative from back home.

    So, now you have the issue of policing this, and you can’t do that before or during the time in which the knot is being tied officially.

    So what happens when a Brit has gone back to pakistan or india, married their cousin and brought them over here, do you force a blood test on both spounses to make sure they are not related? to what degree is it allowed and not allowed?

    WHat do you do after the spouse fail the test, do you impose a fine? forced divorce?

    It would be a very tough and cofusing area to legislate, I think what needs to take place is education, educating the children about the risks for cousin marriages, how it may create hardship and problems for the children, and the fact that it’s simpy wrong, you can’t be a *expletive* hermit and stick to your imemdiate family, you have to marry people unfaimialr to your village, it helps you challenge yourself and grow, sticking to the safteynet of family is wrong and has all sorts of cultural implications.

    Sure the kids *can* grow up healthy, but what about other factors we are told that a broad genetic sample from marry people of diffferent races creates more intelligent and strong and fit children. Aiming for “healthy” is a pretty low benchmark, shouldn’t we yearn to have children who are athletic and intelligent?

  57. Lisa — on 25th August, 2010 at 10:02 am  

    The Islamic view is that while marriage between cousins is permissible, it is preferable to choose a marriage partner from outside one’s family. We have to distinguish between what is permitted and what is advocated. Some clans restrict marriages to amongst their kin only – a practice far from what is advocated. It is worth stressing here that when marriage of cousins is repeated over several generations, they are bound to have more effects on children.

    By permitting such marriages Islam does not encourage them. It advocates the cementing of social relations through marriages between totally unrelated families.

    The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) once told one of his Companions to choose a wife from a tribe different to his, and then to choose for his son a wife from a third tribe, and to seek for his second son a girl from yet another tribe.

  58. Cauldron — on 25th August, 2010 at 10:43 am  

    I guess I’m less concerned about genetic inbreeding (icky, but nevertheless legal in the UK among cousins) than about cultural inbreeding.

    The real reason people feel squeamish about this practice is that it is predominantly a cultural trait of rural Pakistanis. Rural Pakistanis are probably one of the two or three most troublesome and underachieving minority groups in the UK. The host community therefore feels uncomfortable with any cultural arrangement that leads to the unending importation of people from the rural Pakistan. If cousin-marriage was a cultural trait confined to migrants to the UK from metropolitan Tokyo (or even the posher bits of Islamabad) I don’t think too many people would be fussed.

    There seems to be a lot of tiptoeing around the main issue: the deep unpopularity and dubious benefits

  59. damon — on 25th August, 2010 at 11:03 am  

    Given what has been said above in the last few posts, we then come to a difficult conumdrum.
    The Bradford Pakistani community is an oddball community. Or might justifiably be seen as such by the wider public who aren’t as nuanced in the finer points of all this.

    That might be unfair, but in out wider culture we have no problem with having joke stereotypes about Appalachian hillbillies … there’s even a hillbilly family in the Simpsons.
    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_1I7KiCuAU4k/SHGKirKRZiI/AAAAAAAABbA/cmB6DUWy7V0/s400/cletus_and_kids_kidicarus222.jpg

    Some anti-monarchists also have no problem mocking the royal family for being ”inbred Germans”, but here with the Bradford Pakistani community we’re not really meant to notice. And that they do it primarily to circumnavigate the immigration rules to help build up family wealth and kinship between the continents.

    That might sound rather crude, but I just thought I’d mention this, as PP is a fourm quite focused on south Asian issues. The forum should be big enough to deal with such tricky issues, without just letting the islamists who lurk around the site close down discussion by throwing around accusations of islamophobia and saying so-and-so is a BNP supporter.

    There is a problem of segregation in some of those northern towns like Bradford and Oldham – and I’m just wondering how much the practice of 75% of British born children marrying their first cousin, usually from Pakistan – helps perpetuate the segregation, because it keeps the local muslim community so insular in outlook … that some of the local non muslims just think they are too weird to think of as equals.

    I hope that doesn’t sound provocative just for the sake of it. It’s certainly not meant to be.

  60. Raff — on 25th August, 2010 at 1:31 pm  

    Here is an academic article researching the topic which is quite interesting: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a759261686

    Can pass on copies if you write and ask nicely..

  61. Naadir Jeewa — on 25th August, 2010 at 1:53 pm  

    Douglas, you misunderstand homozygosity.*

    Homozygosity just means you’ve got two copies of the same allele. So you could have the homozygous dominant, or the homozygous recessive variants.

    This makes sense in a population with high cross-cousin marriages – since people born with two copies of the recessive alleles, will have a higher mortality rate and therefore will have a lower total fertility rate.

    That’s why the probability of congenital defects does not tend towards 1 with repeated cross cousin marriage, but instead stabilises at a higher fertility/mortality equilibrium.

    The problem in terms of societal cost, is that developed nations have much lower mortality, so what you get is more individuals born with long-term morbidity.

    * Homozygosity is on the Science National Curriculum, as is basic Mendelian genetics. So much for declining standards.

  62. Soso — on 25th August, 2010 at 1:54 pm  

    Islam, owing to its coercive nature, engenders a nasty climate of suspicion and mistrust, and one of the major ways to overcome that sense of distrust and to keep things relatively ‘honest’ is to only marry within the family.

    First cousin marriage isn’t about honour, it’s about control.

  63. Kismet Hardy — on 25th August, 2010 at 2:10 pm  

    That’s a load of bollocks soso, my brother. First cousin marriages have got bugger all to do with religion. It’s just small minded village mentality, no more no less

  64. Cauldron — on 25th August, 2010 at 2:28 pm  

    @62. Quite so. The key issue is ‘rural’ not ‘religion’. The importation of people directly from rural villages causes nothing but aggro. The cultural chasm is just too big.

    So rather than pussyfoot around about homozygosity – a word which one day will yield me the mother of all Scrabble victories – let’s call out the root issue: we don’t want poor villagers rocking up here with their illiteracy, misogyny and superstitions. And it is perfectly fine for a country to “discriminate” against such people when it comes to selecting desirable migrants.

  65. Kismet Hardy — on 25th August, 2010 at 2:44 pm  

    Indeed the Darwin Awards aren’t based on race but trying to encourage backward muppets to please stop breeding

    As Bill Hicks (pbuh) was fond of saying: ‘One less doorknob in the world? Good.’

  66. Bored in Kavanagasau — on 25th August, 2010 at 3:10 pm  

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1301264/British-couple-gunned-Pakistan-suspected-honour-killing.html

    Related story. There many things wrong with culture of cousin marriage aside from the health issues. One of them, highlighted above, is that sons and daughters are treated (in this case, by the family in Pakistan and not Britain) as commodities for sale.

  67. Kismet Hardy — on 25th August, 2010 at 3:17 pm  

    “is that sons and daughters are treated”

    “is that (in a few cases) sons and daughters are (sometimes) treated”

  68. Bored in Kavanagasau — on 25th August, 2010 at 4:32 pm  

    Kismet Hardy

    In the case above and others where a penalty is inflicted on a child by the family and/or on the family in the U.K by the family(abroad) for not agreeing to the marriage. A bit like defaulting on a futures contract to stretch the analogy or failing to pay protection money to a local gang and getting your knees smashed in. I guess an argument against this is that these marriages are seen as natural family obligations, an extension on those family responsibilities in Western families which we wouldn’t view through an economic lens.

  69. j.stoddart — on 25th August, 2010 at 5:24 pm  

    @damaon,
    @58,
    i think you make a very good point. look at the difficulties faced by those, in the pakistani community, wishing to marry another muslim of a different ethnicity. repeated cousin marriage is even going to pit families against one another. i am all for inter-ethnic and inter-racial marriage and i see encouragement for this in the quran.

  70. Naadir Jeewa — on 25th August, 2010 at 5:44 pm  

    @65
    “sons and daughters are treated (in this case, by the family in Pakistan and not Britain) as commodities for sale.”

    Just as Levi-Strauss’ Alliance Theory describes cross-cousin in his work on kinship as sexual property exchange. It underpins dynastic state building, as you can see in imperial China and European royalty.

    Call me an old teleological determinist, but the simple message is that modern capitalist society makes cousin marriage irrelevant as a strategy by removing the relationship between economic success/failure and kinship.

  71. Soso — on 25th August, 2010 at 6:55 pm  
  72. Naadir Jeewa — on 25th August, 2010 at 7:28 pm  

    @70
    There’s no ideological bent to that article is there? It’s all about the Mosslems, and then references a paper about consanguineous marriages in Tamil populations. FAIL.

    Anyway, I think this is the best piece on the issue:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMWZe0r9zRE&feature=related

  73. Naadir Jeewa — on 25th August, 2010 at 8:47 pm  

    Now that you’ve resorted to a personal attack, I now reserve my right to tell you to go fuck yourself.

    I am not a member of the Pakistani community, but to paraphrase Colin Powell, “so what if I was.”

    If irretrievable dumbification means I insist on facts rather than assertions based on deeply held racist beliefs, then so be it.

  74. douglas clark — on 25th August, 2010 at 9:51 pm  

    Naadir Jeewa @ 61,

    Not everyone takes a biology option though. Just saying that this is complicated stuff for the non-specialist to understand.

    I’d have thought, correct me if I am wrong, that certain genetically inherited conditions may not show up until the person concerned is at or above child bearing age? May have no effect whatsoever on their ability to have children.

    But it is surely the case that the ‘risks’, if that is what they indeed are, are spelt out to everyone.

    No?

  75. earwicga — on 25th August, 2010 at 10:01 pm  

    ‘I’d go even further than Dispatches and suggest that inbreeding has irretrievably damaged the gene pool of many Muslim populations.’

    And you would be wrong Soso. Please think carefully before you proceed with any comments in this vein. It is very likely that they will be deleted.

  76. Kismet Hardy — on 25th August, 2010 at 10:22 pm  

    “When first cousins marry first cousins generation after generation and century after century, the resulting dumbing down eventually becomes irreversible, and leaves those afflicted with it unable to compete in open, modern societies where intelligence and education mean everything.”

    Yeah, only that doesn’t happen. If you need proof, pop into the school of a kid you know and I guarantee you’ll find a pakistani kid that’s better at chemistry AND cricket than the one you know

  77. douglas clark — on 25th August, 2010 at 10:42 pm  

    That is Hardy the point though, is it Kismet?

  78. Naadir Jeewa — on 25th August, 2010 at 10:46 pm  

    @75 – If memory serves me correctly, it’s actually compulsory at Key Stage 3 (Age 14).

    Anyway, the only real way to get the probabilities is through observation, and for that the risks suggested at NHS Evidence are more or less what all the papers I’ve seen have said (even for repeated marriages).

    Yeah, there are risks, and they should definitely be spelt out to people, as the NHS Evidence page tells doctors to do. All I’m saying is that 1) although the original practice is cultural, intransengience in the face of evidence is the product of cognitive bias, not some Muslim ‘closing of the mind’. 2) The risks are not in need of sexing up. 3) The interventions are increased economic development, and a general clamp down on non-consensual arranged marriage. Cousin marriage will then wither away, as it already has for middle class immigrants (as far as my anecdotal evidence goes).

  79. j.stoddart — on 25th August, 2010 at 11:12 pm  

    i believe that underachievement is attributable to social factors. it has only been fairly recently that pakistani children in any great number have been attending university. to compare the pakistani community to that of say, the ugandan/kenyan asian community, without taking into account the fact that the ugandan asians belonged to diffeent socio-eceonnomic class, were not rural and were relatively better educated for longer than the pakistani community, would be unfair.

  80. earwicga — on 26th August, 2010 at 12:32 am  

    Soso – I changed my mind and deleted the comment that Naadir refers to at #73.

  81. douglas clark — on 26th August, 2010 at 5:34 am  

    Soso,

    The article you quote @ 71 appears, verbatim, on the utterly insane web site, Gates of Vienna. See here:

    http://gatesofvienna.blogspot.com/2010/08/islam-and-inbreeding.html

    I’d assume that I am not alone in thinking that anything, yes anything, that is posted there is hardly ‘agenda free’?

    The list of other articles that Nicolai Sennel has written suggest that there is a living to be made out of muslim bashing.

    How very, very congruent that earnings and hatred should align so easily. Journalism, churnalism, has a history of encouraging that sort of thing. Knowt about similar ‘village’ tendencies elsewhere on the planet. Knowt about ‘lost tribes’ who, presumeably, by the nature of being ‘lost’ have interbred for a heck of a long time. Are we to take an anthropologists view that, by the nature of being ‘lost’, they are somehow inferior?

    Dunno…

    My gut reaction to these sorts of articles is that this is not analysis, it is prejudice dressed up as science.

    I genuinely do think that people should be made aware of the risks of birth defects as a consequence of their choices. Beyond that, we are into the sort of prescriptiveness that ‘Strength Training’ outlined very clearly @ 56.

    Although, whilst living under any sort of imposed ‘norm’ is anathema to me, it seems to me that Philip Larkins’ words are apposite for us all:

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

    It seems to me that this should be taught to teenagers as part of the ‘national curriculum’ too.

    Just saying….

  82. Sarah AB — on 26th August, 2010 at 8:17 am  

    I think one or two of the comments and links help one understand why those involved might adopt a ‘siege mentality’, to quote Rumbold’s post, and overcompensate by ignoring the problem. It’s like the sickle cell anaemia issue though – just because it’s coopted by bigots doesn’t mean that the best response is to ignore it. I’ve read elsewhere that Jewish Orthodox communities intermarry a lot and make use of genetic testing to good effect. That seems worth promoting more actively. I didn’t see the programme but it doesn’t seem quite fair to suggest it was designed to make Muslims look backward – there are plenty of programmes about, or other coverage of, the dangers of drinking alcohol and smoking – problems which Muslims shouldn’t have to worry about – but smokers and heavy drinkers aren’t backward – they’re just making poor choices, and neither are the programmes designed to promote Islam (just to turn round the suggestion that Dispatches almost seems designed to make Muslims look backward). I realize single cousin marriages aren’t really the issue but I can think of two cousin marriages in Jane Austen (one of them Fanny Price/Edmund Bertram) and clearly it wasn’t an issue then.

  83. Naadir Jeewa — on 26th August, 2010 at 2:10 pm  

    Just to be clear – in comment #73, I was referring to an extremely racist statement from soso that has now been deleted by earwicga, and someone else had rightly pointed out, was directly comparable to neo-nazi rhetoric. I think it was best left on tbh.

  84. Ranjit — on 26th August, 2010 at 2:13 pm  

    A big part of the cousin marrying is a scam to get relatives to the UK and shake down the Govt for benefits.

    See the brazeness of this here:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1306076/Widow-7-7-bomber-Siddique-Khan-legal-aid-claim-delay-inquest.html#ixzz0xiKQ9drK

  85. Kismet Hardy — on 26th August, 2010 at 2:40 pm  

    Fuck. Daily Mail says so. Must be true.

  86. damon — on 26th August, 2010 at 2:57 pm  

    As well as being a factor to do with health, cousin marriage is also a social issue, because of the cultural and demographic dynamic it brings to particular places like Bradford and Oldham.

    As can be seen as clear as day here in this Newsnight film. ”They don’t like us” says the 10 year old muslim girl about ”the white people”.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/8881030.stm

    If 75% of Bradford Muslims are marrying their first cousins, usually from Pakistan, then that must mean that this community must be growing at a factor of … something or other – I’m not very good at maths.

    Out every four children born to that community in Bradford, three of them will start a new family with someone from Pakistan? I can’t believe the figure is so high. Where do they all set up home? Is the ”Asian area” always enlarging? Or are as many likely to move out into new areas and suburbs than cram into overcrowded places like Manningham?
    Do whites continue to leave areas that start becoming majority muslim, when they feel that there is a loss of hegemony? It seems from that film that hegemony does come into it. Ask people who wear islamic dress routinely if they want to live in a street where they are seen as unusual for doing so.

    And of course, does it matter? My answer is that it shouldn’t, but it kind of does too.

  87. Hassan — on 26th August, 2010 at 3:20 pm  

    I watched some of the program the other night, and was pretty flabbergasted by the extent of cousin marriages amongst Pakistanis. I come from a a Pakistani background, and the claim that 50% of Pakistanis in the UK married their cousins seemed incorrect, as the vast majority of pakistanis that I know have married outside the family. That said, I am a Londoner, so it might be considerably different up north (as most things are).

    Anywho, from an Islamic perspective, it should be noted that cousin marriages are allowed, but certainly not encouraged. Furthermore, the odd cousin marriage probably won’t have disastrous affects, it’s just when generation after generation are marrying their cousins, do we see such terrible and heart-breaking deformities.

    Finally, the majority of Pakistanis in the UK are originally from Mirpur, a small town in Pakistani Kashmir. Is cousin marriage a common trend amongst all Pakistanis, regardless of origin, or just Mirpuris? I suspect the latter, but am largely ignorant of the matter, outside my own personal experience.

  88. earwicga — on 26th August, 2010 at 11:34 pm  

    There is an article on New Statesman which touches on many of the things talked about on this thread: ‘The mosques aren’t working in Bradistan’ http://www.newstatesman.com/society/2010/08/bradford-british-pakistan
    (and answers your question in the final section Hassan)

  89. sofia — on 27th August, 2010 at 1:04 pm  

    40 maidmarian you really are a patronising dick

  90. sofia — on 27th August, 2010 at 1:10 pm  

    Sofia:

    How would you go about implementing your strategy for dealing with this issue? The was a campaign back in 1997 but they came under fire from local communities. Certain initatives seem to be working well in certain areas but should/can they be replicated on a national scale?

    Rumbold..i would start small scale..by mapping areas where the practice is prevalent. I would also look for local partners who have footholds into the communities targetted as well as local GPs. Set up an active working committee with shortterm and longterm goals. This is not going to happen overnight. It needs to have an element of trust associated to it otherwise of course people are going to tell you to naff off.

    I would look at the statistics and break them down into something easy for the lay person to understand. I would talk to the communities and ask them what they think and take all their answers and try to figure out which best way to approach the issues. It has been mentioned above that it is not a religious issue but is practiced mainly in muslim pakistani households..therefore taking religious texts to highlight that there is no religious teachings advocating it and in fact there are teachings proving the exact opposite..i.e marrying amongst different ‘tribes’
    What happens usually is a top down short term campaign which patronises people and expects them to listen straight away..well we all know that doesn’t work…look at the obesity statistics..look at the medication compliance statistics..

  91. sofia — on 27th August, 2010 at 1:11 pm  

    and Maidmarian i’m still waiting for the examples of ‘very well established’ health initiatives you were talking about and what their outcomes were???

  92. Rumbold — on 27th August, 2010 at 2:37 pm  

    Sofia:

    They have already found that areas like Bradofrd are the heardest hit. I agree that this needs to be a long term project, working with groups and individuals within the ‘community’. However, we can’t forget the levels of willfull ignorance. The programme documented it very well, showing how some people refused to even consider medical evidence, while others blamed doctors or fate. The statistics are already pretty stark and clear.

  93. sofia — on 27th August, 2010 at 2:59 pm  

    Rumbold I agree with you but this is not a one issue issue..if that makes sense..and it seemed to be that the programme was only looking at it from a particular point of view. In order to tackle this practice it needs multi disciplinary and multi issue approaches.

    Fate is an extremely difficult issue to counter act. It not only exists in this instance but is an argument used by people with many other medical issues which then leads to premature morbidity or death…I come across it all the time and that is why I had the ‘hissy fit’ as Maidmarian so eloquently put it.

    Yet slowly but surely these attitudes can be changed..it’s not just time it’s planning..the correct planning with the right people…asking the right questions..and you’ll only get that if you listen to the things you don’t want to hear yourself…such as the ignorance, the fate issue, the years of practice etc..by not taking the time to do this we are doing these people a disservice and ignoring a huge chunk of society.

    If you understand the concept behind ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ then you’ll understand why people refuse to change years of practice..and this isn’t just prevalent in pakistani communities…it’s everyone…so you have to learn what will make the ‘old dog’ want to learn something new…I know this is might be a politically incorrect analogy to use but I just wanted to get the concept across..

  94. damon — on 27th August, 2010 at 3:10 pm  

    From that New Statesman article Earwicga linked to above:

    In Mirpur, such marriages secure the status of the biraderi against other clans, and also allow the family to retain its land and property. In a transnational context, they permit people to give their families access to better opportunities. “It’s really one society that exists between the two places,” says Sean McLoughlin, senior lecturer in religion, anthropology and Islam at Leeds University. “There are constant circulations of money, people and ideas.”

    Data suggests that up to 10,000 transnational spouses enter the UK annually. Significantly, this means that even in the fifth gene­ration, many children have one parent who is non-English-speaking. “These two people essentially come from totally different worlds,” says Zaf Shah, a young Mirpuri professional from Bradford whom I meet at a coffee shop in the centre of the city. “It’s difficult to make a happy union. What is Mum going to teach the children about the culture here, when she knows nothing about it?”

    You might say ”why bother” when most of your efforts at working with this community will be seen as dubious by perhaps even a majority of them?
    It is something that is not going away anytime soon for the reasons just given there.
    It’s one community in two entirely different places – and the culture and expectation of the Asian part of things has equal or even more clout than the British side of things at present – and for the forseeable future, as it’s a culture that keeps itself tied to a backward part of Pakistan.

    I’d like it if this was the beginning of a PP discussion, rather than the tail end of one. But that’s the way things usually go. As soon as things get interesting, the debate and people’s attention has usually moved on.

  95. sofia — on 27th August, 2010 at 3:22 pm  

    to 10,000 transnational spouses enter the UK annually

    how many of these are first cousins?

    we’re not talking about marrying abroad we’re talking about specific first cousin marriages

  96. damon — on 27th August, 2010 at 3:42 pm  

    You’d have to do some maths for that one Sofia.
    Wikipedia has the Muslim population of Bradford being 16% or about 47,000. 75% go in for first cousin marriage, and it’s been suggested on here that the majority of them are British marrying someone from Pakistan. (I still have trouble believing that 75% figure btw).

    So you’d have to guess how many marriages a community of 47,000 might be having a year. A couple of hundred?

  97. sofia — on 27th August, 2010 at 3:50 pm  

    yup so the 10,000 is moot

    Anyway…here’s a link to something that is being done for the communities affected by sickle cell
    http://sct.screening.nhs.uk/familylegacy

  98. Rumbold — on 27th August, 2010 at 4:24 pm  

    Sofia:

    If you understand the concept behind ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ then you’ll understand why people refuse to change years of practice..and this isn’t just prevalent in pakistani communities…it’s everyone…so you have to learn what will make the ‘old dog’ want to learn something new…I know this is might be a politically incorrect analogy to use but I just wanted to get the concept across..

    Oh, I agree, and I will back whichever approach I think is most effective- I don’t have fixed ideas. I just worry that previous campaigns, which ahve been rational and scientific, have achieved nothing. If your approach would work I would be it’s most enthusastic supporter. But, as the programme showed, how do you convicne the imams and other organisations to do this?- it seems hit and miss.

  99. joe90 — on 27th August, 2010 at 4:32 pm  

    post #96

    If you mean the imam like in the programme you got no hope he didn’t have clue. This is cultural issue not a religious one, turning it into a religious issue you will get no where. I think the sickle cell project mentioned by sofia post #95, is a better method to copy in tackling the problem.

  100. deemz — on 27th August, 2010 at 8:30 pm  

    Cousin marriage is common throughout Pakistan, particularly in the rural communities. It’s a difficult tradition to break away from but there is growing awareness of the potential problems it poses, particularly with multi-generational cousin marriages, that can increase the likelihood of birth defects.

    Even though I was born and raised in Canada, my family is from the Potohar region of the Punjab, practically straight from the Pind, so I’m intimately aware of the practice.

    As others have stated the social impact both in the UK and at home is a far greater problem than the potential genetic problems. Having been to these areas where marriages like this are the norm, there are not legions of “mutant freaks” running around, and I can personally attest to the fact that I’m in my braderi – and i have 100 first cousins – that there are no cases of physical handicaps, save for cousin born deaf. My parents are related but are not first cousins and have “outsiders” as parents/grandparents, and I came out just fine. Small sample size but the point is, it’s probability and even at the odds indicated in most studies, it’s not the most important problem concerning these marriages. There was a time when most of the world practiced forms of endogamy just due to the sheer fact that populations were remote, travel was difficult, etc. so I’m sure, and many have studies have confirmed this, that cousins making children together, as long as it’s not repeated incessantly through the generations will not result in a “defective” population.

    As for what the social problems associated with cousin marriage are for Pakistanis in the modern age, others have already mentioned a few like:

    a) Hindering integration in the west
    b) Forced/coerced marriages

    Other issues that are not so immediate is the amount of pressure it places on families living in the west to “take care” of their relatives back home by marrying off their daugthers/sons to them, as the relatives back home see it both as an entitlement and a slap in the face if they do not even offer. That’s a tremendous emotional burden. Also it creates problems in the village back home where they are so dependent and expectant of this “promise” of the future that for instance, boys who assume they’ll be married off to a UK girl will not have any motivation for schooling or improving their lives there. Their model is go to the UK, live the dream…no other options enter into their head.

    And even when and if these marriages happen, there’s the issue of a power imbalance between the UK/western citizen and the immigrated spouse. They’re at the mercy of their spouse and their family. This creates a vulnerable situation for both immigrant men and women, which can be and has been exploited.

    With all of the above said, not all of these marriages result in misery and unhappiness…there are plenty of great couples for whom this practice works out very well.

    A ban is not in order, but encouraging genetic screening and a frank, open and introspective discourse within the community is needed. Whatever outsiders think isn’t really relevant as much as understanding and defining what we want as a people going forward into the modern world…IMO.

    p.s. it’s definitely cultural this practice as Islam sets this as the limit for a relationship, not the preference. That said, this could be an opportunity for Islamic leaders’ to play a role for moving the community away from it by clearly articulating that.

    Attackers and those looking to down the community will not help.

  101. deemz — on 27th August, 2010 at 8:41 pm  

    By the way, I once dated an Afghan Hindu (yes they exist and no my parents don’t know, lol) and she told me that they also married cousins. Also I’ve learned the Sikhs that came from the Potohar region, prior to the Partition also had cousin marriages.

    So again, definitely a cultural issue but since religion is such an integral part of the Pakistani culture, specifically for these kinds of communities, religion needs to have a role in addressing it.

  102. Sam — on 27th August, 2010 at 9:47 pm  

    Deemz

    As a South Indian, I know that cousin marriages (strictly limited to maternal cousins) were more prevalent historically among some South Indian hindu communities, although they are becoming less acceptable nowadays. However I think for most North Indian Hindus they were always seen as incest and to be avoided. So it is more of a regional cultural issue than just religious. However I’ve not heard of any widespread issue with genetic defects in South India, but that could also be because the practice is less widespread now, especially in the urban areas.

  103. douglas clark — on 28th August, 2010 at 2:02 am  

    Well. What is the consensus view?

    Is there one?

    deemz comment @ 98 seems to me to summarise the debate fairly well. Although this seems to me to be a bit exclusionary to the discussion:

    A ban is not in order, but encouraging genetic screening and a frank, open and introspective discourse within the community is needed. Whatever outsiders think isn’t really relevant as much as understanding and defining what we want as a people going forward into the modern world…IMO.

    I can sympathise with the idea that a community ought to sort itself out. I am not at all sure that a community ought to be allowed to wallow in denial of extra community evidence about the harm it may be doing to itself.

    Through an ignorance that I share.

    I had never heard of the word ‘homozygous’ before this thread started.

    Which is, sort of, why I think Sofias’ comment at 88 is completely on the button and yet her comment at 91 seems, to me at least, to be a bit of a rewind.

    ___________________________

    Brief bit of background. I knew a woman who had the genes for a genetic defect in her children. And she fell in love, and married a chap with an identical potential defect.

    The risk of having a child were spelt out to them in graphic terms, and they went ahead anyway. The child was fine.

    Phew!

    True story btw.

    _________________________

    The point being that adults took a judgement about the medical evidence and went ahead anyway.

    My point is merely that it was an informed gamble. They knew the risks and they went ahead anyway.

    If you do not know the risks, then you are playing dice blindfolded.

    We are talking statistics here. We are also talking about the right of people to make mistakes.

    It seems to me that an informed decision is one you should live with, an uninformed decision is just, as Sofia said, ‘Fate’.

    Although the decision informs another generation – the child – and I think that was Rumbolds’ point. Your freedom should not, I would have thought, be at the expense of the next generation.

    We ought to be a bit better than that….

  104. deemz — on 28th August, 2010 at 3:32 am  

    [quote]“I can sympathise with the idea that a community ought to sort itself out. I am not at all sure that a community ought to be allowed to wallow in denial of extra community evidence about the harm it may be doing to itself.”[quote]

    That’s not what I meant by that comment. The community has to take all the facts into consideration, regardless of where they are coming from, (that’s what a frank and open discussion is all about) but external opinions of what we should do and judgments about who we are and who someone else wants us to be shouldn’t interfere with that.

    In other words, self-determination.

  105. j.stoddart — on 28th August, 2010 at 4:29 am  

    i don’t think choosing to marry someone other than a close relative necessitates that one stops believing in fate.

    indeed, it would have been perfectly possible for the people in the video to have admitted, “look, what has happened is probably down to the fact of our being close relatives” but they could retain the belief in fate by saying, “but it was our fate that we didn’t consider this at the time of our marriage.”

    fate doesn’t cease to exist just we become more aware of risks, for example, since it was our fate that we would find ourselves in a position to make those better choices with the attendant more desirable consequences.

  106. douglas clark — on 28th August, 2010 at 7:52 am  

    deemz @ 102,

    Fair enough. My point is simply that the relative weight of internal and external opinions on the issue seems to be out of kilter. And I am still left with a ‘so-called’ cultural issue impacting adversely on the next generation. If you read the rest of my post at 101 – it would be 101 wouldn’t it? – you will see someone who is struggling with exactly the same issues of self determination and responsible adulthood as I think you are.

    I thought that Sarah ABs’ comment about sickle cell anaemia @ 80 was pretty well to the point.

    Assuming – and I think most folk that have read this thread and it’s links would assume it was so – that it is all true.

    The point that J Stoddart makes @ 103 about ‘fate’ gives far to much credence to irresponsibility disguised as some sort of irresistible force. I’d go so far as to say there is no such thing as ‘fate’, except in a post hoc phase of justifying ones’ own stupidity. (Added – well except death and taxes, maybe..)

    I smoke. Am I to blame lung cancer on ‘fate’ rather than my own foolishness? I think not.

    It is up to us, all of us, to use whatever brains we have in order to avoid bringing the ‘sins of the father’ down on the children.

    OK, a bit OTT, but hopefully you see the point?

  107. Strength Training — on 28th August, 2010 at 8:29 pm  

    I think we missed out on an additional point on why cousin marriages are common, in the rural pakistani culture, there’s no such think as state pension, and the older folk pretty much depend on the youngsters to support them.

    I beleive that a lot of parents prefer to wed their sons with their cousins, so that they can keep the daugher-in-law under their control, a daughter in law who is related is unlikely to run off and abandon the parents.

    Aside from the genetic implication of multi-generational imbreeding [i'm aware that this may be politically incorrect to use this term, however I'm using it due to lack of alternative], it has a huge toll on the culture as well, individual freedoms are thrown out the window without any consideration, and everyone is made to take up the collective responsibility. I don’t think religion, sexism or anything else plays a part in this, I believe that everyone suffers in this system.

    And changing these people will be as difficult as trying to change the culture of the underclass in britain who live of state handouts all their lives.

  108. j.stoddart — on 28th August, 2010 at 10:15 pm  

    @douglas clark,
    @102,

    i don’t think fate is something to which the vast mjority of white britons give much weight other than to act as a balm when things don’t pan out. however, the concept of kismet or fate is one whch enjoys a lot more importance in the british pakistani community as it’s bound up with religion.

    i got the impression, from the people in the programme, that it was a case of either/or and that to believe you were in anyway responsible implied a rejection of the concept of fate (a strong tenet of of the abrahamic faiths.)…as a commentator had previously pointed out, becasue of the strong religious character of the pakistani community (even if religion is used to justify social ills)the way to influence the community and bring about change is through religion and religious leaders.

  109. j.stoddart — on 28th August, 2010 at 10:25 pm  

    as an aside, has anyone read the book, “the republic of cousins”? i haven’t read it but it looks like an intersting read…in which the author argues that the opppresion of women is not linked to islam but to the legacy of practises, like cousin marriage, associated with pagan prehistory…
    anyhow..

  110. Soso — on 30th August, 2010 at 2:31 pm  

    Soso – I changed my mind and deleted the comment that Naadir refers to at #73.

    don’t care. Genetics is a hard science and what I stated is true; when first cousins breed generation after generation, and century after century, the damge done eventually becomes irreversable. That may not be a pleasant thought, but it just hapens to be true.

    An analogy would be a plant that has gone so long without receiving fresh water that it reaches the Permenant Wilting Point, beyond which all the fresh water in the world will be of no good.

    Cousin to cousin inbreeding led to the fall of several Egyptian dynasties, the pharons became just to stupid to rule.

  111. deemz — on 30th August, 2010 at 6:09 pm  

    To be fair, rarely has it been generation after generation after generation of cousin marriage. At least in my family tree, it is evident that there were often and still are marriages done with “outsiders” for reasons owing to alliance building or simply because there weren’t enough cousins to go around (in those days, also infant mortality rates were higher, you weren’t likely to have so many siblings and therefore cousins for your children). You have to remember that in the case of the Potohar and Mirpur regions of Pakistan, up until recently the populations were relatively small and due to lack of transportation services villages were remote from another, so while marriages within the braderi were preferred, there were plenty instances that would necessitate marrying outside.

    I take offense to the conclusion that my people are inferior, “irreversibly damaged” by thousands of years of endogamy when so many other populations did the same exact things over that time, but have only recently moved on from there. It’s a load of bullocks. What about the Parsees? What about Jews?

  112. deemz — on 30th August, 2010 at 6:18 pm  

    “Fair enough. My point is simply that the relative weight of internal and external opinions on the issue seems to be out of kilter. And I am still left with a ‘so-called’ cultural issue impacting adversely on the next generation. If you read the rest of my post at 101 – it would be 101 wouldn’t it? – you will see someone who is struggling with exactly the same issues of self determination and responsible adulthood as I think you are.”

    This is due to lack of education and lack of an environment where critical thinking and open discussion are encouraged. The community has lots of issues and this is what holds it back. Again, it takes time for a rural traditional culture thrust into the modern world to change and it’s only natural to expect a certain amount of struggle against that, especially by the older generation.

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