11 February, 2008


Damage limitation

On BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Prof Steve Jones was wheeled on as an expert interviewee to discuss the issue of genetic damage due to first-cousin marriages in the UK Pakistani "community". What, seemingly, he was supposed to be talking about was the genetic and medical consequences of inbreeding. What he actually spent the entire slot doing was playing down the numerical significance of the problem and attempting to divert attention from the particular cultural issues of the Pakistani and other South Asian and Middle Eastern "communities" by spurious references to cousin marriage in Southern Europe.

Ann Cryer, a woman for whom I have increasing respect, at least quoted material if anecdotal evidence. One case she referred to involved three children of a cousin marriage, all of whom had suffered liver failure. One of the girls in this case had had four successive liver transplants. As cousin marriage among UK Pakistanis runs at about the 80% mark and the practice is endemic and chronic, I would venture to suggest, Prof Jones, that this is not a matter that can be simply dismissed as insignificant.

Later, on the dreaded Woman's Hour, a couple of "spokeswimmin" from the Muslim "community" were interviewed, one of whom intimated that it was unhelpful to raise the matter as it victimized Muslims, who were already under pressure from the nasty unsympathetic British meejah.

At least the South Asian young people, clearly untrained in the political arts, who were interviewed in a vox pop, got a little closer to the heart of the matter. Cousin marriage with partners from the old country was a family obligation, to get relatives into the UK for their economic benefit.

Frankly, if a died in the wool (pun accidental) multiculturalist like Phil Woolas feels driven to get up on his hind legs and raise a taboo subject like this, the situation must be pretty dire.

Presumably, all of this is an enrichment of our vibrant and diverse culture and represents a significant contribution to the British economy.

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