October 21, 2008

Cousin marriage in Iraq

As I wrote in my early 2003 American Conservative article on why Iraqi social structures were likely to undermine America's goal of nation-building in Iraq, "Cousin Marriage Conundrum" (which Steven Pinker selected for his anthology The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2004 anthology), about half of the married couples of Iraq are first or second cousins.

Reading Daniel Yergin's history of the oil industry, The Prize, I discovered a great example of the logic behind this.

Imagine you are the dictator of an oil-rich country. Who is the most likely person to overthrow you?

Your Minister of Defense, right?

So, you could appoint your own first cousin as Minister. He'd be more loyal to you than some stranger would.

Yet, Shakespeare's history plays about struggles for the English crown have been characterized as the War of the Cousins.

Or, you could appoint your own son-in-law. He'd be more loyal than some stranger would.

Yet, King James II of England was overthrown in 1688 by his son-in-law William of Orange.

But, if you were Saddam Hussein, you could appoint your own first cousin who is also your brother-in-law!

Yergin writes;

The new Iraqi regime -- particularly the party, military, and security services -- was dominated by Tikritis, many of them related in some way to Hussein. So obvious was their grip that in the mid-1970s the government banned the use of names that indicated clan, tribe, or locality of origin. At the top sat members of Hussein's Talfah family and two other immediately related families, the only people he could trust -- to the degree that he could trust anybody. He has already married his cousin, the daughter of his uncle Kahyr Allah Talfa. Now Adnan Khayr Ala Talfah -- son of his uncle, brother of his wife, his own cousin -- was Minister of Defense (a post he held until his death in a helicopter crash in 1989). Hussein Kamil Al-Majid, who happened to be both Hussein's cousin and son-in-law, became chief weapons buyer, and responsible for the development of nuclear and chemical weapons and missiles. And the influence of [uncle and father-in-law] Khayr Allah Talfah continued to be felt. In 1981, the government printing house distributed a pamphlet by Talfah. Its title gave some idea of the thrust of his political thought: Three Whom God Should Not Have Invented: Persians, Jews, and Flies.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

He has already married his cousin, the daughter of his uncle Kahyr Allah Talfa.

That's his maternal uncle. Interesting, it wasn't a 'father's brother's daughter' (parallel cousin) marriage.

terrence said...

A Bedouin saying describes this and much of the mess in Middle East. Me against my brothers; me and my bothers against our cousins; me, my bothers and my cousins against everyone else.

hyper hormonal monkey said...

Extended families (in the middle-eastern context) are high-trust networks. Other high-trust networks include biker gangs and mafia, these networks will tend towards corruption as everyone involved looks the other way as individual members bend the 'rules'. They aren't a bad thing per-se but this kind of social network does make it easier to rip off untrustworthy outsiders.

Steve Sailer said...

Right, I suspect Saddam wasn't a prize catch because his father had died before his birth, making him at least half an orphan. The maternal uncle whose daughter he married "raised him and became his guardian.... For both uncle and nephew, the lodestar event was the pro-Nazi nationalist Rashid Ali coup of 1941 ..."

Perhaps not too surprising that Saddam's son and cousin once-removed Uday didn't turn out so hot.

Anonymous said...

"So obvious was their grip that in the mid-1970s the government banned the use of names that indicated clan, tribe, or locality of origin."

Funny how bans like this always go down when a group wants to conceal the extent of their power, like the Euro-Mexicans banning race from the Mexican census and creating "la raza" to keep everyone docile.

Lucius Vorenus said...

What this proves is that if a "society" becomes so immoral that men must turn to institutionalized [de facto] incest as a defense against assassination, then all hope is lost.

Eric said...

Of course, the downside to all this cousin marriage is your offspring turn out like Uday and Qusay.

Anonymous said...

Are you seriously claiming that the marital traditions in the U.S. have proven to be more advanced and more stable than the Middle East?

The marriage tradition and the family unit have been disemboweled in California and the U.S. The next step is legalized beastiality. That's coming soon...probably first in San Francisco.

And the U.S. has morphed into a nation of illegitimate children (bastards), and making fun of cousin marriage is something a Bastard Nation has no right to do.

Sailer, you pompous ass, you are living in 2008 Kalifornia. You should stop making fun of cultures located anywhere else on the planet. By 2010 you'll be paying bribes to cops as part of your normal routine. By 2012 the power will be off statewide and your tattooed, glue huffing, spanglish speaking kids just might be scrounging for scraps of seagull meat.

Sailer, you need to hurry up and finish that cute cinderblock wall in the backyard with the broken glass on top. And keep adding to the emergency kidnapping fund too. That's another part of your advanced culture now.

Time to slap a crucifixion on the wall and go join La Raza, you great Western Man, you. Middle Easterners have got nothing on you and the late, great Golden State.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

I'm interested in hearing your impressions of the book, "The Prize".

Have you read, "The Black Swan" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb? I'd love to hear your impressions of that as an empericist.

J said...

In the coming years, nepotism will disappear. A dictator will be able to clone himself and fill all posts with himself.

Anonymous said...

The Prize is a wonderful book.

praeloquor said...

All hope is not lost. Their hold on power will crumble as it becomes inbred and increasingly incompetent. Regime change is only a matter of time! Oh wait...

Concerned said...

Steve,

You deserve credit for pointing out the fact of cousin-marriage but your analysis leaves a lot to be desired.

You have essentially proven with your statistics that cousin marriage leads to MORE violence and instability than systems where this does not occur. Not less.

testing99 said...

The weakness of cousin marriage is that rival tribes are always on the lookout to supplant them.

Which explains the Surge's success.

Anthony said...

The European (especially English) dynastic struggles always turned to brothers or cousins to replace the old king out of an excess of legalism. William of Orange (and William the Conqueror) were in the line of succession to the throne of England, which made them convenient replacements, as the powers-that-were wouldn't accept a complete interloper as king.

Also, the travel and communication technology of the day required local power centers to maintain some control; better that those local power centers be controlled by relatives than non-relatives, even though that meant that some of those local potentates might more easily claim the right to be king.

Anonymous said...

Hussein Kamil Al-Majid? The same Hussein Kamil Al-Majid who defected, then came back because the CIA didn't treat him the way he felt he should be treated? And got a real lesson in ill-treatment from his cousin and father-in-law?

These consanguinity-based networks seem to have some pretty spectacular failures.

Planetary Archon Mouse

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested to know what the effect of all this cousin marriage going on in the Middle East is on IQ. I'm sure it can't be good. Also, is cousin marriage somehow connected to Islam? For example, I've heard that cousin marriage is quite common in Pakistan, but I haven't heard the same about India. It would also explain why Islamic cultures seem to have devolved more than any other cultures over the past millenium.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Anonymous: I'd be interested to know what the effect of all this cousin marriage going on in the Middle East is on IQ. I'm sure it can't be good. Also, is cousin marriage somehow connected to Islam? For example, I've heard that cousin marriage is quite common in Pakistan, but I haven't heard the same about India. It would also explain why Islamic cultures seem to have devolved more than any other cultures over the past millenium.

Uh, gee, ya think?

Look, I don't mean to be a total jerk, but has your Mom had you locked in the kitchen cupboard since Tuesday, September 11, 2001?

[If so, then kindly forgive the sarcasm.]