When genetics comes in handy in politics

By Razib Khan | October 30, 2011 1:21 pm

In Mother Jones Andrew Serwer has a long profile up of a Mitt Romney adviser who has associations with Lebanese Christian sectarian radicals. This section jumped out at me:

Régina Sneifer, who served in the Fifth Bureau in 1981 at the age of 18, remembers attending lectures where Phares told Christian militiamen that they were the vanguard of a war between the West and Islam. She says Phares believed that the civil war was the latest in a series of civilizational conflicts between Muslims and Christians. It was his view that because Christians were eternally the victims of Muslim persecution, the only solution was to create a national home for Christians in Lebanon modeled after Israel. Like many Maronites at that time, Phares believed that Lebanese Christians were ethnically distinct from Arabs. (This has since proven to be without scientific basis.)

The scientific issue is actually a little more complex than Serwer comprehends. It is true that Muslims and non-Muslims in any given region share a lot genetically, but non-Muslim minorities in the Middle East have gone through a long period of endogamy and demographic contraction, resulting in genetic differences (mostly obviously, they seem to have less Sub-Saharan African admixture than their Muslim neighbors). But the interesting point is how widespread genetic information is now becoming in trying to understand various issues. Serwer is broadly correct I’d say that the Maronite radicals who argue for a strong separation between the origins of their own people and the Muslim and Druze of Lebanon are not on solid basis, just as Muslim Arabs who believe that they are predominantly descended from Arabians are also not on solid ground.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Human Genetics
MORE ABOUT: Ethnicity
  • Justin Loe

    While it may be true that there are no genetic differences between the two groups (or minimal differences, depending on which set of papers one references), my opinion is that political views will be only slightly influenced by genetic data. To a fundamentalist, I don’t think one’s genotype has much intellectual relevance. My opinion.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #1, i agree.

  • http://www.huxley.net/bnw/ Mustapha Mond

    God only knows what politics would have been like back in the 1930′s if full genetic sequencing had been available to the Nazis (or even the English.) It is inevitable that we will see it used for political purposes in the future. The consequences will not be pretty.

  • http://www.isteve.blogspot Steve Sailer

    In 1974, Cyprus was divided between its two main ethnic groups. This has been bad for the local economy, but good for not dying violently in Cyprus. In 1975, undivided Lebanon began a civil war that lasted 15 years. Would partition of Lebanon along ethnic lines have been worse than 15 years of war? I don’t know, but it seems like a reasonable question.

  • TonyGrimes

    I’ve always wondered at the Jewish / Arab dichotomy. Are they really separate? Surely Jews are just Arabs who’ve travelled around a bit and picked up a few genes and habits along the way.

  • ackbark

    Agreeing generally with #4, a lot of people have a constitutional aversion to walls, they may look bad, but they work.

  • nebbish

    TonyGrimes,
    The term “Arab” in its colloquial usage includes peoples as genetically different from each other as the Lebanese and Sudanese Arabs. Even if confined to the Middle East proper, the populations of the Arabian peninsula show some genetic differences from the populations of the Levant. If you accept the research published by Atzmon et al. and Behar et al. last year as well as Dienekes’ analyses at the Dodecad project website, Jews appear to be Levantines who have absorbed “a few genes and habits” along the way. Perhaps more than a few genes, actually, although not likely a majority of them even in the case of the Ashkenazim.

  • http://www.huxley.net/bnw/ Mustapha Mond

    “Jews appear to be Levantines who have absorbed “a few genes and habits” along the way. Perhaps more than a few genes, actually, although not likely a majority of them even in the case of the Ashkenazim.”

    I’m pretty sure that current studies put European Ashkenazi Jews at approximately only 40% Middle Eastern ancestry. Lord knows that most of them in my weekly poker game have blue eyes. I daresay living cheek to jowl with Germans and Slavs for over 1000 years would have that effect on any ethnic group.

  • Bob Arctor

    I’m pretty sure that current studies put European Ashkenazi Jews at approximately only 40% Middle Eastern ancestry.

    You shouldn’t be quite so sure, mostly because you’re almost entirely wrong.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashkenazi_Jews#Genetics

    To summarize, the genetics of Jews in Poland, Germany, and Ukraine greatly resembles that of Jews who never left the Eastern Mediterranean. The level of (Northern European) paternal local admixture is on the order of 10-12% and the maternal founding population was also overwhelmingly of Middle Eastern or Southern European origin as well.

    Some studies purported to find that ~30% of the ancestry of the Ashkenazim was European in origin, but these took Palestinians as the baseline for the hypothetical Jewish ancestor, which is problematic as Sunni Palestinians have intermarried with peninsular Arabs for over a millennium now.

  • nebbish

    In the Atzmon paper, the range of admixture was given as 30-60%. Although the exact source populations for the admixture among Ashkenazim aren’t known, I think that most of the papers thus far have proposed admixture from Southern Europe rather than Northern Europe. But I would think it not unlikely that the amount of gene flow from Northern Europe was greater than zero. As for blue eyes, my experience is the opposite. The majority of Ashkenazim that I have known have had brown eyes, but there are some light-eyed individuals in my close family.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Mustapha Mond, from what I’ve heard there was an initial period of interbreeding for the Ashkenazi founding population, but afterward they stayed quite endogamous.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #9, you’re wrong. i’ve analyzed askhenazi genotypes. the european, albeit more southwest than northeast, is significant, and around ~50% (though perhaps somewhat less).

  • Bob Arctor

    “#9, you’re wrong. i’ve analyzed askhenazi genotypes. the european, albeit more southwest than northeast, is significant, and around ~50% (though perhaps somewhat less).”

    Sorry for being unclear Razib, I only meant that the Northern European (Germanic/Slavic) component appears to be substantially smaller than everyone assumes.

    The current consensus for total (including South Balkan and Anatolian) European ancestry in Ashkenazim is, as you say, around 43-48%.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #13, ok, you’re right. not much disagreement.

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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