Friday, January 24, 2014

Islam's Baby Problem

Quick: list the following nations in descending order for fertility: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States of America, Libya and Iran. Gut instinct would be to list the four Muslim countries first, then the US and for fertility, the numbers of the Muslim countries would dwarf the USA. You would be wrong. Per the 2013 CIA Factbook, Saudi Arabia is at 2.21, Turkey, 2.10, Libya 2.09, the USA at 2.06 and Iran at 1.86. The culprit is fertility itself, not the lack of trying or family and social structures that encourage more children. Cousin marriage is to blame, but the media wants to focus on Islam.

Iran having one of the lowest, if not the lowest, birth rates in the Islam world has become the center for infertility treatments in the Muslim world. In 1999, Ayatollah Khameini issued a fatwa allowing infertility treatments, which was out of step with the rest of the Muslim world. This may have been a practical decision looking at the collapse in birth rate in Iran before other nations. If Iran's fertility rate was enough for the Ayatollah to toss aside religious doctrine and welcome medical advancements, it may have also been a factor in the quest for nuclear power and weapons.

The Foreign Policy article is obsessed with the machinations of clerics and the mechanisms for approving different treatments. While constantly telling Americans that they need to understand those enemy Muslims (substitute Communists for Cold War articles), the article makes every effort to point out the otherness of Iranians and Muslim couples wishing to have kids. While forever portrayed as restrictive and reactionary, the articles cites the regime's openness towards fertility science. Clerics debate bioethics, consult the Koran and medical research, and make decisions. Change the religion and this is no different than our legal system and fertility clinics in Massachusetts. No one dare writes if the Muslims are oppressive selectively because some of the things they repress do destroy society.

The road less travelled the author could have walked down is revealed earlier in the article and never mentioned again.

IRAN, LIKE OTHER MIDDLE EASTERN COUNTRIES, has an extremely high infertility rate. More than 20 percent of Iranian couples cannot conceive, according to a study conducted by one of the country's leading fertility clinics, compared with the global rate of between 8 and 12 percent. Experts believe this is due to the prevalence of consanguineous marriages, or those between cousins. Male infertility is "the hidden story of the Middle East," says Marcia Inhorn, a Yale University medical anthropologist and a specialist on assisted reproduction in the region. Couple that with a shocking, multidecade decline in the average number of children born per woman, and it means that fertility treatment is needed in Iran more than ever.

What is cousin marriage? How often does it happen in Muslim countries? Do Muslims do it globally or just the Middle East? For those answers, see HBD Chick. Male biological infertility, cousin marriages so high that a Yalie blames infertility on cousin marriage and couples unable to conceive at double or more the global rate. The Foreign Policy report focuses on the what (minimally) and then discusses the government reaction to solving it. What about the why? Marcia Inhorn seems open and useful for exploring that issue.

Like most American problems, the why is harder to discuss and might bring up dangerous thoughts. If cousin marriage is at rates not seen in the West for over a thousand years in the Muslim world, then there might be more to the Muslim-West divide. Mentioning the cousin marriage rates of Muslims in the UK could bring up salty assimilation problem thoughts. If cousin marriage leads to more clannishness, the entire representative democracy experiment looks even dumber in retrospect. Cultural relativism would take a hit if a media outlet mentioned Afghanistan's 50% cousin marriage rate. This simple problem, infertility, could be a springboard for a much bigger discussion about West-MENA relations, but let's not have that. Let's just focus on those icky male clerics making arbitrary decisions and relying on their old superstitious book for guidance on how to solve a medical problem.


peterike said...

Aren't we always told it's bad to have too many kids? It's not "sustainable"? Then why is this a problem? Isn't this a cause for celebration?

I happen to think it is. I think all this "we're not having enough babies" business is insanity. Did we have enough people in, say, 1850? Yeah, we did. Plenty enough. Too many even then.

The world needs at least a few billion fewer people, and fertility does seem to be dropping considerably in many places, black Africa being a big exception so far.

Of course, when a historically white nation tries to "make up" for the baby shortfall by importing third-worlders, then this is akin to curing cancer by chopping off your head. What's so bad about an America of 200 million people? Or 150 million? It would be fantastic.

Jokah Macpherson said...

This makes me think of the Hebrew patriarchs' reputed troubles producing children. I guess it's 'cause they kept marrying their sisters and cousins.

Huck said...

America's fertility is lower than it seems. First gen immigrants push up the numbers.

The Islamic world is being unofficially overrun with feminism thanks to american TV which is reducing birth rates. Iran's problem with having children stems more from women waiting till they are much later to have kids(Iran is the most pro women's rights Islamic nation).

AllanF said...

I too am curious if the low fertility is more attributable to biological or cultural causes. Even if the former, is it genes or nutrition?

I've wondered about vitamin D deficiency among Muslims. The Vitamin D Council (obviously biased) has considerable anecdotal reports suggesting low vitamin D is very problematic for reproduction in the first place and growth in the following. Also, increasing women's age of when they do give birth is going to exacerbate the situation as it will be that many more years they've been drawing down their "bank" of D built up from their pre-pubescent, pre-burqa days. Low D is also cumulative across generations as low-D mom's give birth to and nurse through infancy weaker children that are to become the next generation.

Anyone know what autism rates are in the ME? That's the canary in the coal mine, so to speak, for biological reproduction complications.

Anonymous said...

This is really not a difficult question, and the answer is "no", Yalie or not. Simply look at fertility rates over time for these countries, eg:

If cousin marriage is making people infertile, the effect wouldn't have waited until the last five years to kick in. It's either cultural Westernisation or environmental pollution (or both).