Monday, February 21, 2011

Human mating systems and the cultural delineation of incest

I have always been interested in the differences in the delineation of incest among various cultures. For example, Pakistanis consider marriage between first cousins to be completely acceptable and sometimes even preferred. In North America and Western Europe, this would be considered incest. In pre-industrialized Japan uncle-niece marriages were common and accepted, another form of incest within Western society. Marriage or sexual relations between individuals of the immediate family (mother, father, sister, brother) is considered as incest within all cultural contexts.

This leads me to believe that there are at least two degrees of incest: absolute, involving members of the immediate or nuclear family and relative, involving members of the extended family. The processes that define absolute incest are biological. Immediate family members share half of their genetic material with their offspring. Offspring from the same parents are related to each other by half as well. Therefore, when parents-offspring and sibling reproduce the resultant offspring is related to the parents by more than 3/4 of their genome. This is problematic for two reasons:

1) The offspring produced has decreased genetic variation, reducing its ability to exist within a wide range of environmental conditions. Decreased genetic variation also leads to decreased immune response, making the offspring more vulnerable to diseases affecting his/her parents.

2) The offspring has a higher probability of inheriting genetic problems, since the probability of both parents having the same genetic problem is higher. This is the reason why offspring of incest can have debilitating physiological conditions or diseases.

The lack of fitness (by this I am referring to Darwinian fitness; the ability of an individual to survive and reproduce) of offspring of absolute incest as compared to others is the main reason for the vehement rejection of such incestuous relationships globally. Now, offsprings from the relative incest category also have lower genetic variation as compared to others. However, unlike the case of absolute incest, the level of relatedness to its parents is between 1/2 and 3/4 (depending on the familial relationship of the parents). Therefore, the probability of offspring from such relationships to develop debilitating conditions or diseases is much lower as compared to absolute incest, but higher when compared to offspring from unrelated individuals.

One more factor in the delineation of relative incest is the social mating system. In societies that are monogamous/historically monogamous or consider monogamy to be a virtue, incest tends to include relationships between members of the extended family. In polygamous (one male partners with more than one female) and polyandrous (one female partners with more than one male), incest is limited to relationships between members of the immediate family. In my opinion, this is because offspring of polygamous or polyandrous systems are less related to each other (share one parent) than offspring from monogamous relationships (share two parents). Therefore, it is very likely that relationships between individuals of the extended family within polygamous or polyandrous relationships produce offspring that are less genetically related to each other than those from monogamous systems. This means that the probability of offspring from such relationships in polygamous/polyandrous systems to develop diseases and such is lower than from offsprings in monogamous systems. Given the low cost of darwinian fitness from relationships between extended family members in such systems, theoretically speaking, there is a strong possibility that such relationships would be socially accepted. It would be interesting to see if cultures where acceptance of relative incest exists (i.e. cousin or uncle-niece marriages), are cultures with polygamous/polyandrous mating systems or cultures that were, until the advent of western modernity, polygamous/polyandrous.

I would like to point out that my post is based on basic genetic theory and anecdotal evidence of the delineation on incest within different cultural contexts. I would encourage all of my readers to take my opinion with a grain of salt as nothing posted above has been verified either through scientific experimentation or meta analysis. Also, my theory of human mating systems does not fit a wide variety of examples of both relative or absolute incest. It does not explain the cousin marriages in the case of European royalty or the prevalence of first cousin marriages in Europe before the 1900s or the insistence of sibling marriages among most ancient Egyptian dynasties

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Blasphemy Laws: A call to action

Last week, I posted my response to Salman Taseer's assassination over his support for Aasia Bibi, arguing for delegitimizing social acceptance and support for blasphemy using a religious framework. A week later, it seems like Pakistan's blasphemy laws have claimed another victim. This time, it is 17 year old Muhammad Samiullah who has been accused of blaspheming in an examination paper during intermediate exams in North Nazimabad, Karachi (incidentally, where I grew up).

I know that last week I emphasized the importance of conducting debates within the public sphere on the legitimacy (religious and otherwise) of Pakistan's blasphemy laws. With the arrest of Muhammad Samiullah, this can't happen sooner. However, more needs to be done. At the moment, we need to put pressure on the Pakistani government for the release of Muhammad Samilullah. Over the long term, we need to push for the repeal of the blasphemy laws.

Many members of the Pakistani diaspora believe that there are few avenues available to respond to such situations. I disagree. Unlike those in Pakistan, we have the freedom to express ourselves without severe repercussions. We must use this privilege to denounce such actions on the behalf of those who cannot. We cannot feign ignorance or impotence in this matter. It is our responsibility to ensure that Salman Taseer's fate is never repeated again.

There are many options in terms of response available to those in the diaspora. The first and easiest is to send an email protesting the arrest of Muhammad Samiullah to their closest Pakistani consulate as well. A list of contact information for Pakistani consulates in Canada and the United States are posted below:

Canada

Ottawa

High Commission for Pakistan
10 Range Road
Ottawa, Ontario
K1N 8J3
Tel # (613) 238-788
Fax # (613) 238-7296
Email: parepottawa@rogers.com

Toronto
Consulate General of Pakistan
1120 Finch Avenue West,
North York, ON
M3J 3H7
Tel # 416-250-1255
Fax #(416) 250-1321
pareptoronto@rogers.com

Montreal
Consulate General of Pakistan, Montreal
3421 Peel Street,
Montreal, Quebec H3A 1W7, Canada
Tel # (514) 845-2297
Fax # (514) 845-1354
Email: parepmontreal@bellnet.ca

Vancouver 
Consulate General of Pakistan
Suite 1400, 510 West Hastings
Vancouver BC, V6B 1L8
Tel# 1-604-569-1743
Email:info@pakistanconsulatevancouver.com

United States of America

Washington DC
3517 International Court NW
Washington, 20008
Phone: 1-202-243-6500
Fax:1-202-686-1534
info@embassyofpakistanusa.org 

New York
12 East 65th Street New York,
NY 10065
Phone: 01-212-879-5800
Fax: 01-212-517-6987
info@pakistanconsulateny.org

Los Angeles
10850 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1250,
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Phone:310-441-5114
Fax:310-441-9256
consul@pakconsulatela.org

Houston
Consulate of Pakistan-Houston
11850 Jones Road, Houston, TX 77070
Telephone: 281-890-2223
Fax: 281-890-1433
parephouston@sbcglobal.net

If anyone has any contact information for Pakistani Consulates in other countries, please post in the comments section below and I will continue to update this post. I am also posting a sample email below (for people who consider email or letter writing to be daunting):

Dear Honorable (Name of the Consular General)

I am concerned that a number of people facing charges of blasphemy, or convicted on such charges have been detained solely for their real or imputed religious beliefs. Most of those charged with blasphemy belong to the Ahamdiyya community but Christians have increasingly been accused of blasphemy, among them a 13-year-old boy accused of writing blasphemous words on the walls of a mosque despite being totally illiterate. The following case histories are supplied: Anwar Masih, a Christian prisoner; Arshad Javed, reportedly mentally ill, sentenced to death; Gul Masih, a Christian, sentenced to death; Tahir Iqbal, a convert to Christianity, died in jail while on trial; Sawar Masih Bhatti, a Christian prisoner; Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan, Muslim social activist; Chand Barkat, a Christian acquitted of blasphemy but continuously harassed; Hafiz Farooq Sajjad, stoned to death; Salamat Masih, Manzoor Masih, and Rehmat Masih  three Christians. Recently Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was assasinated for raising the possibility of a pardon for Aasia Bibi who was sentenced to death under Section 295B and 295C of Pakistan’s Penal Code, for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. On Feb 1 2011, Muhammad Samiullah was arrested in Karachi, Pakistan on allegations of blaspheming on an exam paper in his Intermediate exams.

I call for the immediate release of Aasia Bibi as well as Muhammad Samiullah, unless they are charged with internationally regognizable offences and tried in proceedings and under laws that meet international human rights standards.I urge the government of Pakistan to repeal Section 295B and 295C of the Penal Code, which carries the death penalty for anyone found guilty of blasphemy and fulfill its pledge to review and improve “laws detrimental to religious harmony”, announced by Prime Minister Gilani in August 2009.

Sincerely,
(Your Name)

In addition to contacting your local consulate, please send these emails to President Asif Ali Zardari and Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudary. Their contact information posted below:

President Zardari
Pakistan Secretariat, Islamabad, Pakistan
Fax: +92-51-9207458
E-mail:
publicmail@president.gov.pk

Salutation: Dear President Zardari

Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry
Chief Justice of Pakistan
Supreme Court of Pakistan
Islamabad, Pakistan
Fax: +92-51-9213452
Salutation: Dear Chief Justice Chaudhry

If you live in Canada, contact information for your MP is available here. If you live in the United States, you can find contact information about your representative here. For these emails, I am also providing an altered template below:

Dear Honorable (Name of Representative or MP here)

I am concerned that a number of people facing charges of blasphemy, or convicted on such charges in Pakistan have been detained solely for their real or imputed religious beliefs. Most of those charged with blasphemy belong to the Ahamdiyya community but Christians have increasingly been accused of blasphemy, among them a 13-year-old boy accused of writing blasphemous words on the walls of a mosque despite being totally illiterate. Recently Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated for raising the possibility of a pardon for Aasia Bibi who was sentenced to death under Section 295B and 295C of Pakistan’s Penal Code, for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. On Feb 1 2011, Muhammad Samiullah was arrested in Karachi Pakistan on allegations of blaspheming on an exam paper in his Intermediate exams."

I am calling on the (your country here) government to push for the immediate release of Aasia Bibi as well as Muhammad Samiullah, unless they are charged with internationally recognizable offences and tried in proceedings and under laws that meet international human rights standards. I also call on the (your country here) government to urge the government of Pakistan to repeal Section 295B and 295C of the Penal Code, which carries the death penalty for anyone found guilty of blasphemy and fulfill its pledge to review and improve “laws detrimental to religious harmony”, as announced by Prime Minister Giliani in August 2009.

Sincerely,
(Your Name)

Once again, phone calls are more effective than email. If you are able, please call your representative or MP directly to speak about pressuring Pakistan to repeal the blasphemy laws. If you are part of the Pakistani diaspora elsewhere, please post contact information for local government representative in your country in the comments section below. I will update accordingly.