Iraq War Worries

Robert Wright has a good article in Slate about dubious and valid fears about the Iraq war and its consequences.

Dubious fear No. 1: The war will be long and messy.
Valid fear No. 1: The postwar occupation will be very long and increasingly messy.
Dubious fear No. 2: The war will unleash a wave of terrorism in America.
Valid fear No. 2: The war will unleash time-release terrorism.
Dubious fear No. 3: The “Arab street” will boil over, overthrowing friendly regimes.
Valid fear No. 3: The aforementioned length of the Iraqi occupation will give the “Arab street” an ongoing energy boost.
Dubious fear No. 4: Saddam Hussein, with his back against the wall, will pull out his weapons of mass destruction, possibly prompting the use of nukes by Israel or the United States.
Valid fear No. 4: This war will make the future use of nukes more likely.

I think we have seen a lot of exaggeration on both the pro- and anti-war sides in the debate about this war. Regarding the dubious fear No.3 above, I wrote earlier that the claims of the antiwar folk that the Pakistani government could fall with an Islamist government replacing it are just not true in light of historical experience. Also, I think in the short term the Iraq war will go well. It is the long term (the occupation and the reconstruction) that I am worried about.

Forced Marriage: Post #1

See my first post in this series on cousin marriages here.

I’ll start out by quoting from Amnesty International’s reports about forced marriages in Pakistan as well as what sometimes happens if a woman marries someone of her own choice. Please note that even one such case is heartbreaking, but as always it is not the complete story. There are obviously happily married couples in Pakistan and a lot of them marry of their own accord (usually arranged by parents, though that is changing in the big cities). Those as always remain below our radar both because they don’t constitute a news story and because we focus on the cases of maltreatment. I also do not want to say that women’s rights are in good shape in Pakistan because they definitely are not. Usually however the problems are much deeper and look much more benign on a cursory look than the extreme cases in these excerpts will show.

According to a report by Amnesty International,

Shazia R.’s father arranged a forced marriage for her with a man more than twice her age. When 21-year-old Shazia refused to marry this man, her father beat her severely. Fearing that he would attempt to kill her, she ran away. She found refuge at Panah, a women’s refuge in Karachi set up with donations from several AI sections. Shazia has been staying at the shelter for two months and is extremely happy that she has been able to find safety.

In their report “Pakistan: Insufficient Protection of Women”:

During a visit to Pakistan in April 2000, a man approached Amnesty International delegates in a small Sindh town explaining that he and an adult woman wanted to get married but both partners had been promised in marriage as small children to their respective cousins. The prospective couple were aware of their right under the law to marry but feared violence including deaths at the hands of their relatives if they went ahead. Both partners loved their parents and did not wish to antagonize them but saw no way to claim their rights. Asked about how they had come to know of their rights, the young man reported that in his generation everyone knew their rights; in some cases, prospective couples had run away to ascertain their right and the news of this had contributed to the general awareness. Another couple approached Amnesty International in Karachi at that time; they had been underground for almost a year after a court marriage which the wife’s family did not approve of. They had threatened to find the wife and kill her wherever she might try to hide. More recently, several couples who had married of their own choice and who have since then been living underground and others who were about to get married but feared for their lives, sent e-mail messages to Amnesty International asking for advice on where they might be safe. Another couple who have left the country after receiving threats from the wife’s family without whose consent they had got married, sought Amnesty International’s help in their asylum application.

[…]In its meeting in September 2001 the Council of Islamic Ideology asserted that parents should ascertain the will of their daughters before arranging their marriages but reportedly also said that Islam has given the power to family elders to punish family members including wives and children if they were found to be involved in unethical activities. The advice appears to ignore that the law already requires that women freely consent to their marriages.

[…]While most marriages in Pakistan are arranged by both spouses’ parents, forced marriages continue to be reported. The judiciary in Pakistan has in some cases upheld the right of women to refuse a forced marriage. Very early age at marriage of girls continued to be reported despite legal provisions which fix the minimum age of marriage for girls at 16 and boys at 18. Early marriage denies girls the right to the right to education needed to prepare for adulthood; it also means premature pregnancy with its associated risks. Moreover child marriages must be assumed to be forced marriages as young girls cannot be assumed to be able to give free and full consent to the marriage. Sexual intercourse within forced marriages always constitutes rape.

Pakistani women living abroad continue to be abducted by their parents to be forcibly married to grooms in Pakistan. Usually deprived of their travel documents on arrival they find it difficult in an alien environment to obtain help to escape. 18-year old K. from Manchester who holds British nationality, was taken in April 2001 to Azad Jammu and Kashmir by her parents who told her they were together going on a holiday. In early August she was married to a man she did not know or want; a week later her parents left for the UK taking with them her identity papers. Fearing violence in the family of her in-laws, she hid with friends and contacted a UK based lawyer who succeeded in obtaining emergency travel documents from UK authorities. The young woman returned to the UK in late August 2001.

My anecdotal experience with the immigrant communities suggests that some of the immigrants do not assimilate (I am talking here of the people who immigrated themselves and not their children) and are actually fixed in their cultural mores to the time when they immigrated. In the meantime, the values and traditions of their original home have changed drastically. It is like time has stood still for them. These are probably the sort of immigrants who force their children to marry without consent.

Women who marry men of their own choice are frequently seen to damage their family’s ‘honour’; they are frequently detained by their parents, forcibly married to someone else, threatened, humiliated, assaulted or killed. If they chose to get married in court against the will of their parents, they may be charged, along with their husbands, with ‘illicit’ sexual relations under the country’s Zina [adultery/fornication] Ordinance if their parents do not recognize the legality of the marriage. The Zina Ordinance criminalizes zina, ‘fornication’, i.e. heterosexual relations between consenting adults outside marriage. The legality of a marriage is often difficult to prove for a couple who chose this form of marriage. Courts do not mandatorily maintain records of marriages which could be used to prove that a marriage was lawfully contracted. Women’s rights activists have therefore urged that certain procedureal requirements be made compulsory: that proper record of court marriages be maintained by the courts; that courts intimate the area police station of such marriage so that no criminal complaint of unlawful sexual relations can be registered; the courts should also inform the family concerned about a marriage having been lawfully contracted.

[…]On 25 August 2001, 22-year-old Hifza Kakar was shot dead by her brother at the gate of a sessions court in Quetta where police had escorted her from the local Darul Aman. Hifza had married Fayyaz Moon of her own free will in 1998 but her parents filed a criminal complaint against her husband in Pishin police station alleging that he had abducted her and committed zina. The couple were arrested by police in Faisalabad. During hearings before a sessions judge in Quetta Hifza asserted that she had not been abducted but had validly married Fayyaz of her own free will. The court reserved the judgment which was to be announced on 25 August. After the shootout, the court said that the couple were acquitted of all charges. Hifza Kakar’s brother was arrested.

Dozens of women pay with their lives when they claim their right to decide their own marriages:

In March 2000, Deeba Shaw, a 15-year-old girl in Chenaser Goth, Sindh province was shot dead by her family when they found out that she had married her neighbour without their knowledge. Her husband fled when he heard of her murder.

On 6 March 2000, 19-year-old Samina, married six months earlier and four-months pregnant, and her husband Tanveer Faisal were shot dead in their home in Jharanwala village, Sialkot district, by her brother as her family had opposed the marriage. No one is known to have been arrested.

Often couples believe themselves safe if they escape threats immediately after their wedding. Sometimes women’s groups try and mediate between the families to settle the conflict while the couple are in hiding. In many cases, families ultimately accept the fact of the marriage, especially once sons are born. However, sometimes their sense of shame is not appeased. Robina and Khushi Mohammad of Marianwala village in Gujranwala district were hunted down and killed in May 2000 by Robina’s uncle and two brothers over two years after their wedding against the wishes of her family; they had been in hiding but had finally returned to the husband’s home.

[…]Kubran Bibi was married by her parents without her consent to a man in village Chhedu, Punjab province, in 1999 but was divorced within a few months; her father then married her to Iqbal in her home village Rangeelpur of Manga Mandi, Lahore, again without her consent. When she was repeatedly beaten by Iqbal, she left him on 30 January 2001 and sought refuge in the private women shelter ‘Dastak’ in Lahore. Kubran Bibi told ‘Dastak’ staff at the time of her admission that she had not been consulted before either marriage and that her father had taken money for them; as her second husband was already married and used to beat her severely, she could neither go back to her parents nor to her husband but sought shelter and assistance to file for divorce. She expressed her fear of both her own relatives and her in-laws, all of whom had threatened her. While at Dastak, she was visited by her sister, brother-in-law and a cousin on 9 February 2001 and again by her father and sister on 16 February. She returned with them to her father’s home on the same day.

On 25 March 2001, as she was sleeping in the courtyard of the family home, Kubran Bibi was shot dead. According to press reports her cousin Ashiq killed her in the name of ‘honour’. An FIR (126/2001) was lodged by her father in police station Manga Mandi on 25 March 2001; it named Kubran Bibi’s cousin Mohammad Ashiq as the accused; he obtained pre-arrest bail. Kubran Bibi’s brother and brother-in-law were named as eye witnesses.

The HRCP [Human Rights Commission of Pakistan] concluded, ”the killing of a woman, Kubran Bibi who had recently left the women’s shelter ‘Dastak’ indicates how precarious the position of women is in a situation where even their closest relatives present a threat to them. It also points to the difficulties for those providing shelter to women in an attempt to offer some protection from the dangers they face.”

In some cases men have killed divorced women such as former wives or daughters or single female relatives of whose conduct they disapprove. In February 2000, Iliyas shot dead his daughter Shakeela in village Garjakh, Gujranwala district. Shakeela was living with her divorced mother who had consented to the young woman’s marriage to a man of her choice. In a similar case, a man killed his widowed sister Hoor Begum on 22 October 2000 in Nawabshah district because he disagreed with her choice for her daughter of a man from another community.

[…]’Honour’ killings occasioned by a woman seeking divorce also occur among the expatriate Pakistani community. In February 2001, Nawaz Bhatti was sentenced to death in Clairsville, Ohio, USA, for the murder of his wife Dr Lubaina Bhatti, her father, her sister and her niece in September 1999 in what Nawaz Bhatti perceived to be the defence of his ‘honour’ injured by a disloyal wife. Lubaina Bhatti had been persuaded to consent to the arranged marriage with Nawaz Bhatti in 1992 perhaps out of respect for her parents’ wishes. However, over the next years she filed domestic violence charges against her husband but did not pursue these for fear that he would abduct their son to Pakistan. In February 1999 she filed for divorce and when he continued to harass her, filed for protection in May 1999. On 11 September 1999, only a few days before the divorce was to be finalized, Bhatti shot her dead along with family members whom he believed to have helped her.

[…]Bakhtwar, an 18-year-old woman of the Pathan tribe from Perumal, Sanghar district, Sindh, on 8 July 2000 married Roshan Junejo, a man from the Junejo tribe, before a magistrate in Nawabshah. Her father, Qamruddin, strongly objected to the marriage as he had earlier accepted a marriage proposal for Bakhtwar from a kinsman, Akbar Pathan, which reportedly involved the payment of a large bride price consisting of Rs. 400,000 and two of Akbar Pathan’s five daughters. Bakhtwar’s mother had reportedly met and approved of Bakhtwar’s choice for a spouse. Bakhtwar did not want to marry Akbar Pathan as he was elderly, married and had a daughter older than Bakhtwar. Besides, Bakhtwar wanted to marry Roshan Junejo.

The couple following their wedding were sheltered by relatives but were found by Pathan tribesmen when trying to flee to another village. Bakhtwar was taken against her will to a relative, Fikir Mohammad Pathan in Sanghar who held her in quasi-detention. At the time, Bakhtwar’s family and several elders of the tribe gave written assurances to the Junejos that Bakhtwar would not be harmed and allowed to appear in court at a date fixed earlier for a hearing, 19 July, to state freely if she wanted to stay with her husband or with her family. They said they would respect her choice.

Meanwhile several hundred Pathan tribesmen gathered at Sanghar protesting against Bakhtwar’s disobedience and twice attacked the house where she was held, apparently with the intention to kill her. The tribesmen denounced the marriage and insisted on protecting the family’s ‘honour’ by declaring they would not allow Bakhtwar to approach the court. A spokesperson said: ”We will protect our honour. It is our tradition and part of our culture, irrespective of what the people say.”

On 18 July night, a jirga of the Pathan and Junejo tribes gathered, apparently at or near the residence of a former Member of the National Assembly (MNA) Haji Khuda Bux Rajar and decided that the girl should stay with her parents. The Pathan tribe promised the Junejo tribe that she would not be harmed if her husband agreed to divorce her and allowed her to be returned to her parents. Bakhtwar’s parents are reported to have sworn on the Qur’an not to harm their daughter. Roshan Junejo who had gone into hiding for fear of his life, was brought to the meeting and on hearing this assurance, signed the divorce papers, presumably under considerable duress. Newspaper reported on 20 July that Bakhtwar was escorted by police to Quetta where a part of the family lives.

[…]Among the positive judgments was the Lahore High Court ruling of January 2001 that a woman cannot be forced to live with her husband or her parent against her will. The court responded to a petition by Shahnaz Akhter which alleged that she had been forced to marry a man, her cousin, whom she did not choose or agree to marry and that she feared for her life if she was sent back to her parents where she said her brothers would kill her. The court directed that she be lodged in the local state-run shelter, the Darul Aman, where no one would be allowed to meet her without her consent. Months earlier, Shahnaz had written to the High Court complaining that her family was getting her married without her consent; the court had taken note of this but sent her back to her family after her brothers pledged before the court to respect her wish. Days later she was forced to marry the man her brothers had selected. Shahnaz Akhter had then appealed again to the High Court, saying: ”In the days before Islam, girls were buried alive. Now they are sold like sheep and goats. I have been sold to a man I never wanted to live with. What kind of Islam is this? I am a very unlucky woman who has been thrown to the wolves. My marriage is cruel and arbitrary.”

[…]The Sindh High Court circuit bench in Hyderabad on 21 September 2000 ordered the registration of a kidnapping and murder charge against the father and mother of Uzma Talpur, on a constitutional petition filed by Nasir Mehmood, husband of Uzma Talpur after police on numerous occasions failed to bring her to court. Nasir Mehmood, a student of Tandojam Agricultural University, and Uzma Talpur got married of their own choice on 14 November 1998 in Khairpur before a magistrate as the Talpur family disapproved of the marriage. The couple then went to Punjab province where they were arrested in Jhelum on 30 November 1998 by Hyderabad police on a kidnapping and zina charge; Uzma was subsequently handed over to her parents. Nasir Mehmood stated that police maltreated him in custody and took away the wedding certificate. When the kidnapping charge against Nasir Mehmood was heard before the Karachi High Court, the Talpur family undertook on 6 April 1999 to bring their daughter to the court but failed to do so repeatedly. The mater was then transferred to the Hyderabad bench of the High Court where, on 12 May 2000, the court was informed by Uzma’s father, Gul Mohammad Talpur,, that he had brought her to court on 20 April 1999 but that she had been kidnapped by four unknown persons. The Station House Officer of Cantonment police station, however stated that no woman had been kidnapped on that day. Despite this, another FIR alleging kidnapping was registered against Nasir Mehmood. The court issued several search orders to recover Uzma Talpur but to date she has not been found.

Most of these cases involve use of force, especially deadly force. This is however not the common practice. Most often, the pressure for or against marriage is an emotional one. Parents routinely do not ask their daughter’s opinion about a marriage prospect, assuming that she will accept. They try to emotionally blackmail their children (both guys and girls) to marry the person the parents have chosen or not to marry the person the child has decided on. If someone, especially a woman, marries of their own accord, they are socially cut off from their family. This boycott often ends after a while, especially a the married couple get a kid of their own (as mentioned in the excerpt).

One question that arises out of this discussion is how to define forced marriage. Is it forced only when physical force is applied? Or is a marriage forced, when the consent is not completely freely given whether the pressure was physical or emotional? I would go with the second definition. This brings a lot of cases not discussed in human rights reports because they are much milder, difficult to prove and very common. Arranged marriages play into this to some extent as well.

Next: Islamic injunctions about marriage, discussion of arranged marriage.

A Personal Note about Islamic Books, Law, etc.

Islamic scholars have over time worked on a number of religious issues, e.g., commentary on the Quran, collection and authenticity of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (known as Hadith (singular) and Ahadith (plural), and fiqh which is the codification of religious rules for everything under the sun. Unfortunately, there is not much material available on the Internet. There are quite a few books, especially in Arabic, which I do not know. However, there is a large body of work, either original or translated from Arabic, in Urdu (my first language) as well. Nowadays, there is lots of material in English also.

I read a lot about Islam (Quran, Hadith, fiqh, etc.) when I was in Pakistan. My Dad has so many books it would be fair to call it a small library. But I don’t have any reference material with me in the US. Therefore, I have to rely on my hazy memory or whatever I can easily find. This is one reason why I hesistate to write about Islamic injunctions. Another reason is that my interests have changed and I am much more interested in history and politics rather than religious text or rulings. Usually my posts about terrorism, honor killings, etc. focus on the politics, culture and morality of the acts rather than whether they are prohibited or not in Islam.

However, I’ll deviate somewhat from these guidelines I have set myself in my series on marriage and later in my posts about slavery. I differ substantially from the traditional viewpoint on both these issues and there is no way for me to make my point without directly putting forth the traditional position of the four major schools of jurispendence (Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi, Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal and Imam Malik). Note that these are all Sunni scholars from the first couple of centuries of Islam. I do not know enough about Shiite school of thought to write anything about that.

Since I cannot find much material online (other than the Quran and some Hadith collections), I’ll refer to two websites which answer questions asked of them from people. One of these sites is Understanding Islam, founded by modernist Pakistani Moiz Amjad. The other site is Islam: Questions and Answers where conservative Saudi Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid answers questions on various topics. I don’t endorse either of these websites as containing the correct information on Islamic topics, but I’ll make use of them to show some of the ideas among Muslim scholars.

Asylum in Canada

The Manifest Border, a legal blog focussed on immigration, pointed me to this story in the Washington Times:

Thousands of illegal immigrants from Middle Eastern countries are seeking asylum in Canada, massing in run-down motels and refugee sanctuaries on the U.S. side of the border, where they are sheltered —- and sometimes hidden —- from the immigration service.

Some, like Mustafa, are assisted by U.S. government-funded agencies until their hearing with Canadian officials.

[…]U.S. officials yesterday said they typically support the refugee services and that their benefits outweigh their harboring of illegals.

“It becomes a matter of how these [illegals] are being advised,” said Bill Strassberger, a spokesman for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “If they are being told to avoid the law, then it would be something we would look into.” He added that the aliens who are leaving the country are besieging refugee shelters more than the immigration service. A spokeswoman for Canada’s immigration service declined to comment on the situation.

Since fall, when the registration deadline kicked in, Freedom House, a 35-bed refugee facility at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge, has seen an increase of 275 percent in refugee claims to Canada, from 70 last year at this time to 263 this year.

“We started with Iraqis in the fall and moved on to Pakistanis” who were leaving the United States for Canada, said David Koelsch, a staff lawyer at Freedom House. Until recently, “90 percent of our work has been getting people asylum in the U.S.,” he said. “But now, they know that to go before the INS is to be deported and to be locked up in jail while they wait to be deported.” Freedom House received 63 percent of its $844,691 income last year from U.S. government grants, according to records.

An immigration official in Detroit, speaking on the condition of anonymity, did say that any U.S. agency that assists illegals in eluding registration is “helping them circumvent the law.” “We can take [illegals] in if they are not here for a valid purpose. But is not always easy finding them,” the official said.

Now, being an illegal immigrant is a separate matter, but “eluding” special registration by leaving the US before the deadline is entirely legal according to BCIS (or whichever agency replaced the INS).

CALL-IN GROUP 3 (extended 2/19/03): CITIZENS OR NATIONALS OF Pakistan or Saudi Arabia

Who Must Register (Group 3)?

If you are in this category you must register at a designated Immigration Office on or before March 21, 2003.

  • If you are a male born on or before January 13, 1987, and
  • If you were inspected by an immigration officer and last admitted to the U.S. as a nonimmigrant on or before September 30, 2002
  • If you did not have an application for asylum pending on December 18, 2002, and
  • If you will be in the U.S. at least until March 21, 2003.

So, if you leave the US before March 21 (or whatever the deadline for your group is), then you are not required to register.

Dentist

I had a long dentist’s appointment today and my teeth and gums are still hurting. So the series on marriage will have to wait till tomorrow.

Support Democracy in Iraq

I am not in favor of war against Iraq. But I do want democracy there. So for Salam:
Support Democracy in Iraq

BTW, go read Salam’s rant about war and democracy in Iraq.

Julius Caeser

I went to Shakespeare Tavern today with a few friends to watch the play Julis Caeser. The performance was not great but it was interesting.

Marriage: Between Cousins

Bill Allison had a post recently on the subject of cousin marriage recently:

Quite a sad story about marital practices in Saudi Arabia from Arab News, in particular, the practice of marrying daughters off to their cousins. An excerpt:

The final word comes from Maha, another woman.

“There is the tradition of keeping a girl for her cousin. The problem is that this tradition often pleases nobody, yet fathers never change their minds. Sometimes they want to keep the money in the family instead of sharing it with outsiders, who they suspect are only after the money. Sometimes they say that the family is socially below us. If a cousin is younger than me, they will accept him simply because he is a cousin. In fact, this is exactly what happened to me: I had to marry my cousin who was two years younger —- simply because my father and my cousin’s father had agreed to the marriage. I later discovered that my cousin was in love with another girl and he had promised to marry her. My cousin does not love me and I feel nothing for him. This is the price for our tradition of marrying girls to their cousins.”

I think I have enough blogger friends to correct me if I’m wrong (Aziz, Zack and Bin Gregory, I’m talking to you), but I believe that marrying daughters off to cousins is a tribal practice, rather than anything suggested or sanctioned by Islam. Or perhaps it’s a corruption of the tribal system stemming from Saudi rule.

[…]In the sad tale told by Maha, it’s worth remembering that while she and her dowery stays within the family, her cousin-husband is free to also marry the girl of his dreams, if he can afford to support her.

Cousin marriage is generally common in the Muslim world today. Take a look at the map showing the prevalence of cousin (1st and 2nd) marriages. However, I do not think these have anything to do with Islam. Rather, cousin marriages seem to be common due to tribal and family reasons, as Bill mentioned. According to modernist scholar Moiz Amjad:

To understand why Islam has not prohibited marriage between first cousins, it is imperative to first understand the scope of Islamic teachings, in general and its prohibitions, in particular.

The scope of Islamic teachings is limited to the individual and collective morality and spiritual well being of the people. […]Islam does not prohibit things for their medical or scientific repercussions. On the contrary, Islamic prohibitions are strictly related to the moral and spiritual repercussions of things or actions.

[…]The reason why Islam has declared certain relations as prohibited for marriage is to warrant a stable family structure for man, which, in turn, is one of the essential requirements for the socio-moral well being of man. Marriage between first cousins —- as opposed to marriage between brothers and sisters, for instance —- does not destabilize the family structure, even though it may have certain negative medical repercussions on the children born of such a marriage. Thus, Islam does not prohibit such a marriage.

According to the conservative Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid:

Al-hamdu lillah (All praise be to Allah). There is no objection whatsoever in the Islamic religion for a man to marry any of his relatives except al-maharim (those forbidden for marriage) whom Allah mentioned in surat al-nisaa’, 4:23 (interpretation of the meaning):

Prohibited to you (for marriage) are: your mothers, daughters, sisters; father’s sisters, mother’s sisters; brother’s daughters, sister’s daughters; foster-mothers (who breast-fed you), foster-sisters (who breast-fed from the same woman as you); your wives’ mothers; your step-daughters under your guardianship, born of your wives with whom you have consummated marriage, no prohibition if ye have not consummated; (those who have been) wives of your sons proceeding from your loins; and two sisters in wedlock at one and the same time, except for what is past; for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Thus, when Allah mentioned for us the relatives to whom marriage is forbidden, we then come to know that there is no objection for the remainder of the family relations. Furthermore, there is no condition that it be the last resort as indicated in the question. Among the most prominent evidence of this fact is that the Prophet (peace be upon him) married his daughter Fatima to Ali (may Allah be pleased with them) and he is the son of her father’s uncle, as well as the marriage of the Prophet himself to Zainab bint Jahsh (may Allah be please with her) and she is his aunt’s daughter (i.e. his cousin); and there are many other such examples.

However, a different question may be asked, namely: “Is it better or preferable for a Muslim to marry someone he is not related to rather than a relative?”

The answer to this question varies from case to case, and perhaps it may be preferable to marry people who are non-relations, for example if one aspires to form new social ties or bonds, and regards the existence of a marriage relationship with a different family as constructive in widening the circle of social bonds.

In the US, cousin marriages are taboo and are banned in 24 states. According to recent research, there is an increased risk of genetic defects in the case of cousin marriages, though not at the level popularly believed.

First cousins are somewhat more likely than unrelated parents to have a child with a serious birth defect, mental retardation or genetic disease, but their increased risk is nowhere near as large as most people think, the scientists said.

In the general population, the risk that a child will be born with a serious problem like spina bifida or cystic fibrosis is 3 percent to 4 percent; to that background risk, first cousins must add another 1.7 to 2.8 percentage points, the report said.

Although the increase represents a near doubling of the risk, the result is still not considered large enough to discourage cousins from having children, said Dr. Arno Motulsky, a professor emeritus of medicine and genome sciences at the University of Washington, and the senior author of the report.

Next: Forced Marriage.

Haloscan Acting Up Again

Haloscan has not been reliable as a commenting system recently. They have too much down time for “maintenance”. Same thing today:

Server work in progress

We’re doing some routine maintenance on the server. We will have the commenting restored later today.

Update: We’ve restored the commenting but a couple of the most recent posts from a few accounts may be missing. Those comments are safe however and will be resynced later.

Because of this, comments for the last couple of days are not showing up right now. I hope they restore them soon.

If anyone has suggestions for a better commenting system, please email me. Also, is it possible to import the current Haloscan comments to some other commenting system?

Guns, Warlords and Afghanistan

Said Tayeb Jawad, chief of staff for President Hamid Karzai, had an op-ed in the NY Times calling for a de-militarization of the armed groups in Afghanistan.

Just over a year ago at the conference in Bonn on organizing a post-Taliban government, the factions of Afghanistan pledged “to withdraw all military units from Kabul.” A glance around this city, especially at night, reveals the emptiness of those words. Clumps of armed Afghans in olive fatigues loom up out of the darkness. Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders, they search, harass, shake down or wave on, at whim.

My country is at peace. And yet Kabul, once a vibrant and sophisticated capital, is like an armed camp. It is time to demilitarize our major cities.

What about the 2nd amendment? I am kidding, but for those nut-cases who think a right to arms is absolute, Afghanistan is an important example. Some people have told me guns are what preserve liberty. They are right to an extent, but guns can also take away liberty, life and safety. Afghanistan shows us both sides.

These armed groups can turn Afghanistan once again into a dangerous and explosive place, a menace to Afghans and the international community. For the truth is this: Afghans are a moderate people. But the violence of the militias opens the door —- as it did in 1992 —- to fundamentalism and dictatorship by pushing a desperate population to seek refuge in groups like the Taliban.

I believe the violence of the mujahideen is what really mattered in the rise of the Taliban and it can happen again. We should give all the help we can to Karzai to get some basic things to the population, like law and order, food and water, etc.

Afghans are acutely aware of this danger. In my work with President Hamid Karzai, I am constantly approached by Afghans who are concerned about the persistent presence of the militias. “My constituents didn’t ask me for schools or clinics,” said one delegate to last summer’s loya jirga, the grand council that selected the president. “They wanted the weapons collected. They wanted the warlords disarmed.”

To fulfill this wish, President Karzai last month unveiled a comprehensive disarmament, demilitarization, and reintegration program, including job training and incentives for men-at-arms to return to civilian life. But Afghans cannot do this alone. We need the strong backing and unequivocal support of the United States and other members of the international community to bring about the withdrawal of the armed groups from our cities that was solemnly pledged in Bonn.

[…]But the problem holds in the provinces as well. In many places, regional commanders who have usurped the trappings of legitimacy hold the population hostage. The Afghans have repudiated them, but their gunmen impose silence, while they violate human rights and expand their hold on power and the economy in their regions. Until these men are disarmed, the Afghan people cannot invest themselves in the future of their country.

This is definitely important work. I hope the Bush administration is working on it. I hope that this op-ed is not the act of desperation of begging in a newspaper.