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The racial dimension to the Corona virus has fascinated me since the outbreak began. Despite some ethnic Europeans having caught it, including white Americans trapped on a quarantined cruise ship off Japan which has turned into a floating Corona epidemic [Indiana woman is latest Diamond Princess cruise evacuee to test positive for coronavirus, by Jackie Salo, New York Post, February 19, 2020], it’s still true although as of today (February 20) no white people have died of the virus as far as we know. Two people in Iran have just died of Corona [Coronavirus: Iran reports two suspected fatal cases at Qom hospital, BBC News, February 19, 2020], but this doesn’t necessarily undermine the argument that Corona is primarily—but, of course, not necessarily exclusively—an East Asian disease. Let me elucidate.
It is certainly interesting that two deaths have been reported in Iran. According to many U.S. statutory bodies, including the Census Bureau, Iranians—and all people of Middle Eastern descent—are “Caucasian” and are, therefore, categorized alongside “Europeans” for official purposes. Consequently, in the US, Iranians are legally “White,” this being the closest available option to what they are.
Egyptian journalist Sarah Essa has written: “I don’t think I’ll ever forget my Rutgers undergraduate application, which read, ‘White (including Middle Eastern, such as Egyptian).’” Some Middle Easterners in the U.S., needless to say, claim this is a conspiracy to deny them victim status—what Steve Sailer calls the “Flight from White” [‘White’ minus privilege: 2020 US census erases Middle Easterners, North Africans, by Sarah Essa, The New Arab, December 31, 2019].
In genetic terms, it is true that North Africans and Middle Easterners are very similar to “Europeans.” This is why psychologist J. Philippe Rushton used the broad “Caucasoid” racial category in his analysis of racial differences Race, Evolution. and Behavior. He compared “Caucasoids” (which also encompassed South Asians a.k.a. Indians) to “Mongoloids” and “Negroids.”
Each of these broad categories, however, were composed of a number of narrower races. And some races, such as Australian Aborigines, did not fit into the three categories at all .
But with regard to Europeans and North Africans/ Middle Easterners, the two groups’ gene frequencies cluster sufficiently differently that they are usually categorized as separate “races” beneath the Caucasoid umbrella, as in Frank Salter’s book-length analysis On Genetic Interests.
So who exactly are the two people who have died in Iran of Cvid-19? Official Tehran spokesman “Kianush Jahanpour tweeted that they died due to their ‘old age and deficient immune systems’ while being treated in hospital in Qom,” which is about 80 miles south of Tehran [Coronavirus: Iran reports two suspected fatal cases at Qom hospital, BBC News, February 19, 2020].
When dealing with official spokesmen from dictatorships, it is, naturally, difficult to know what to believe. However, Jahanopour’s implication would seem to be that the regime doesn’t think ordinary Iranians are going to die of Corona. The pair that died were particularly elderly and particularly ill anyway. In other words, they were precisely the kind of people who succumb to pneumonia every year, be it Cvid-19 or any other kind.
So their deaths do not disprove the hypothesis that whites—to the extent that Iranians should be regarded as “white”—are unlikely to die of this disease. The fatalities are extreme outliers; unusual cases.
Jahanpour also asserted that this pair had not left the city of Qom, which would imply that they were native Iranians. Indeed, according to the BBC report: “Deputy Health Minister Qasem Janbabaei told the Young Journalists’ Club (YJC) that they were both Iranians.”
But it is unclear precisely what the ethnicity of these two Iranian Corona fatalities was. Being on the Silk Road—an historic trading route—Iran is home to many ethnic groups, each with their own language. The major ones are Persians—historically the dominant ethnicity in the area. They display an admixture with South Asians [Complete Mitochondrial DNA Diversity in Iranians, by M. Derenko et al., PLoS ONE, 2013]. But there are also Azeris, Kurds, Lors, Arabs, Baluchs, Turkmans, Mazanis, and Gilaks. In addition, there are Armenians and other smaller minorities [Iran’s Multi-ethnic Mosaic: A 23-Year Perspective, by Mahdi Majbouri & Sanaz Fesharaki, Social Indicators Research, 2019].
These are all ethnically Caucasian peoples—with the exception of Turkmens. Despite the fact that the Turkmen language, like the Azeri language, is related to Turkish, the Turkmens carry substantial East Asian admixture, clustering with Han Chinese [Revealing the Genetic Impact of the Ottoman Occupation on Ethnic Groups of East-Central Europe and on the Roma Population of the Area, by Zsolt Banfai et al., Frontiers in Genetics, 2019]
If the elderly pair who died in Qom were part of Iran’s Turkmen minority then it could be true that Corona deaths are still exclusive to East Asians. Turkmens mostly live in the province of Golestan, which is in the northeast of Iran, bordering Turkmenistan. But Qom is a wealthy city, home of a major Shia shrine, so it is perfectly possible that it would attract provincial migrants.
And here has long been a Chinese presence in Qom. Chinese Muslims (there are a number of Muslim minorities in China such as the Hui and the Uighurs, and some Han) come to Qom to study at the Madrasa, the Islamic theological college, there. Indeed, according to the director of the Madrasa “demand from China is overwhelming” [Between Pakistan and Qom, by Mariam Abou Zahab, In The Madrasa in Asia, 2008, p.133].
Even so, it seems improbable that the two fatalities, considering their age, would have been ethnically Chinese. It is possible that some Chinese Muslims may have settled in Qom, having studied there, but this is just speculation.
What can be said with certainty: there exist racial differences in susceptibility to flu-like viruses, as a study by Chinese scientists [Ethnic differences in susceptibilities to A(H1N1) flu, by C. L. Chen et al., African Journal of Biotechnology, 2009], which I highlighted in my first column on Coronavirus, has shown. Most obviously, Spanish Flu was far deadlier to Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, Inuit and to the Saami reindeer herding people of Nordic Lapland than it was to Europeans All of these peoples never (or never fully) adopted agriculture, meaning they have less genetic resistance to viruses that jump the species barrier.
But they are also, with the exception of the Saami, “Mongoloid” (i.e. East Asian) peoples. And even the Saami have been estimated to be genetically “47.5% Mongoloid” [Physical Anthropology of the Arctic, by G. Richard Scott et al., The Arctic, 2019, p.355].
And it was documented in Britain’s Monthly Bulletin of the Ministry of Health back in 1954, with reference to people from China, that “Mongoloids, at least, are unduly susceptible to influenza and pneumonia” [Monthly Bulletin of the Ministry of Health, Office of the Ministry of Health, 1954, p.173].
According to the medical textbook Immunoepidemology, [by Peter Krause et al., 2019, Ch. 7: 7], South Asians and Europeans also vary, for genetic reasons, in their antibody response in influenza, with Europeans displaying a stronger response.
This racial difference may be because, according to scientist James Tamerius, flu thrives either when there is low humidity combined with low temperature or when it is extremely humid [Flu Risk And Weather: It’s Not The Heat, It’s The Humidity, by Nancy Schute, NPR, March 8, 2013]. Humans whose ancestors adapted to these two extreme conditions are, therefore, more resistant to flu.
But, for whatever evolutionary reason, Europeans have long been seen to be more resistant to flu than East Asians or, for that matter, South Asians with whom Persians display admixture..
Bottom line: Coronavirus has still not broken decisively into the white (or black) population. And, like SARS, it may never do so.
It’s apparently acceptable for the Narrative Police to concede that Coronavirus impacts men more than women [Why the Coronavirus Seems to Hit Men Harder Than Women, by Roni Caryn Rabin, NYT, February 20, 2020]but not that it discriminates by race.
They must have some agenda. What is it?
Lance Welton [email him] is the pen name of a freelance journalist living in New York.