2003 September 27 Saturday
John Tierney On Cousin Marriage As Reform Obstacle In Iraq

The New York Times has an important article by their reporter John Tierney on the practice of cousin marriage and how it poses an obstacle to any attempt to try to create a civic democratic culture in Iraq. (free registration required) (or find it here, here, or here)

"Americans just don't understand what a different world Iraq is because of these highly unusual cousin marriages," said Robin Fox of Rutgers University, the author of "Kinship and Marriage," a widely used anthropology textbook. "Liberal democracy is based on the Western idea of autonomous individuals committed to a public good, but that's not how members of these tight and bounded kin groups see the world. Their world is divided into two groups: kin and strangers."

Iraqis frequently describe nepotism not as a civic problem but as a moral duty. The notion that Iraq's next leader would put public service ahead of family obligations drew a smile from Iqbal's uncle and father-in-law, Sheik Yousif Sayel, the patriarch in charge of the clan's farm on the Tigris River south of Baghdad.

This is an important article. Be sure to go read it in full. It is great that the Times is publicising this problem to such a large and relatively influential readership.

Tierney quotes from Steve Sailer's January 2003 article (same article here) in The American Conservative which describes the problem that cousin marriage poses for American ambitions to reform Iraq. For more on consanguineous marriage and the problem that consanguinity poses for any attempts to create a liberal democracy in the Middle East see my previous posts and their links to relevant articles by Stanley Kurtz (who Tierney also quotes) and others: Consanguinity prevents Middle Eastern political development, Consanguineous Marriage Perpetuates Violence In Muslim Mindanao, Stanley Kurtz on Francis Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington, Stanley Kurtz: After the War, and Iraq Reconstruction, Neocolonialism, Political Beliefs.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 September 27 03:00 PM  Mideast Iraq Human Nature

Bob Badour said at September 27, 2003 5:43 PM:

So, which of them are Hatfields and which are McCoys?

I think westerners could understand the dynamic if they really wanted to.

Alene Berk said at September 28, 2003 11:18 PM:

I came across an essay (which a dilatory search has not rediscovered) in a similar vein. A Brit, in altruistic/adventure mode, worked as a physician in late-day Rhodesia or South Africa. He was curious how he lived so much better than his same-salaried black coworkers. He learned that family demands impoverished them. Such demands were paramount. Extrapolate to rulers, and such family obligation carries the seeds of destruction and conflict.

Randall Parker said at September 29, 2003 12:08 AM:

Alene, The essay you are recalling was written by Anthony Daniels who also writes under the pen name of Theodore Dalrymple. I'm pretty sure I have a link to it in a previous post. I can't find that previous post but here is the Dalrymple article After Empire which is probably the one you are recalling.

Warren Eckels said at October 1, 2003 12:07 AM:

I wonder how many Iraqis are their own grandfathers...

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