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Grampa Muhammad

How the world is just one big dysfunctional family.

by James Leroy Wilson
April 10, 2002

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Grampa Muhammad_James Leroy Wilson-How the world is just one big dysfunctional family. In the May Atlantic Monthly, Steve Olson reports on our common ancestry. I have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, etc. If we go back forty generations, or about a thousand years, the number of forty-great grandparents would be two to the fortieth power, which is over a trillion. But there were, what, 400 million people in the world in the year 1000? (That's my best guess from looking at a World Almanac chart.) That means that each person living at that time whose line did not die out - or as Olson's research estimates, 80% of the people - would, on average, appear in anyone's own family tree some 3400 times. If we go back to the time of Christ, eighty generations, we have the number of ancestral slots in the family tree to be 1.2 with 23 zeroes following. Assuming that there were 200 million people on the earth at the time (thanks again to World Almanac), each person living then would, on average, appear in anyone's family tree over 6, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 times.

Obviously, what transpired is a lot of marrying between cousins and second cousins - the creation of clans - in which the geneology of both a mother and a father can be traced back to a common patriarch, who himself is a descendant of a common patrarch as his own wife.

But add to that social mobility - invasions, colonizations, migrations, enslavement of conquererd peoples, and traders. Vikings, Crusaders, and Mongols left their marks, and no doubt offspring, throughout much of Europe. And the child of such a pairing inherits the geneologies of both parents While Ireland may have been isolated from India, India was itself not isolated from Afghanistan, which was not isolated from the Ottoman Empire, which was not isolated from central Euorpe, etc. Over the course of several generations, every line of clan intrarmarriage would eventually be broken by an intermarriage.

What does this mean? According to Olson, it is likely that every person living in Europe 1000 years ago (or maybe a little further back), whose line did not die out, is an ancestor of every single person living today who has European descent. Since we know that there were descendants of Muhammed living in Europe at the time, it is safe to say that every one reading this, and every Jew living today, is a descendant of Muhammed - but also of millions of others. Every Muslim today also has Jewish blood in there somewhere, as do any of the rest of us. Projecting forward, those with enough children to expect one's line to not die out, can safely assume that they, too, will be direct descendants to every living person forty generations hence - particularly in an age of unprecendented mobility and intermarriage.

It is something to keep in mind when nations battle over territory, or when a people strives for independence or the preservation of a culture. A lot can change in just one generation, let alone four: just look at the twentieth century. No matter how much a nation supposedly convulses, many living in the nation lead more stable lives. And no matter how much history may tell us that a certain place and period was fairly stable, with nothing much happening for hundreds of years, we all know we'd get a different story from the people actually living during it. Sometime, somehow, our nations and institutions, our languages and customs, will change or disappear, and all that will remain is our common humanity. Isrealis and Palestinians who do not die in the current war are most likely going to become in-laws, even if they don't know it, and whether they like it or not.

To choose peace is to recognize that we are the same, that we have the same grandparents and will have the same grandchildren. It is to recognize that few things are so big a deal as to justify war against our own cousins. The struggle to survive, to preserve the right to exist, is one of them. Peace is the mutual recognition of another person's right to exist. If that is too much for one side or the other to accept, then there will be consequences.

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S.E. Shepherd from Partial Observer writes:
April 10, 2002
So all wars since Christ's birth are actually severe cases of sibling rivalry, eh? Taking that line of death in the back car seat just a little too seriously?

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