A reader writes:
I think that your paper misses one of the prime motivators for first cousin marriage (at least among the community in which I gained some familiarity with it – Panjabi Muslims). In communities where extended families are still the norm, the success or otherwise of a marriage depends a lot on the relationship with the in-laws – for the bride in particular. She may have a great relationship with her husband, but if his mother doesn’t like her, she can make her life hell. And in fact it is almost expected that the relationship between mother in law and daughter in law will be very high conflict. A side effect of patriarchy – generally, older women have authority over younger women, having served their time at the bottom of the heap, they are forthright in exercising power over the “new girls” as they come along. When you give your daughter into her new family, you know that you are giving that family a lot of power over her – the power of life and death, in some cases, given the rate of honour killings and dowry deaths (among Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus alike). So who do you trust your daughter to? Your article refers to an immigrant bringing in “his’ nephew – but it is generally the women who play the major role in arranging the marriages (although the men certainly get to say yes or no). So when it comes to “who can I trust to care for my daughter” the answer is often “she will be safe in my sister’s home”. Or my husband’s sister’s/brother’s home – I haven’t done any empirical research as to how common it is to marry along the matrilineal vs patrilineal line (remembering that those lines are often related).
Of course, that trust is often completely misplaced. I’m not sure that kin relationships mean as much as your article makes out, especially when they are often artificially created – a lot of people aren’t really conscious of how many of their “aunties and uncles” are blood aunties and uncles. I rather doubt that it has much effect on social institutions in the ways described but that is a whole paper in itself rather than an e-mail.
Again, I don’t have the empirical evidence to hand, but it is not true that the cousin-marriage for immigration purposes “almost always works just in one direction -- with the new husband moving from the poor Muslim country to the rich European country” - brides are often brought over for British (or other Western) grooms. This is thought to re-infuse the family with the “home culture”, and there is a perception that a girl from back home will be more “traditional” (again this is often untrue). And while men generally have more autonomy in refusing a marriage, and are more likely to be forgiven if they walk right away from the whole thing, they too come under enormous emotional pressure in these situations. (“you will drag our family’s name into the mud and your sisters will never find husbands”). In