Well, this makes things admirably clear. There’s a useful absence of fuzz and wool and disguise about this crowd.

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi is a controversial Islamic scholar who approves of wife-beating and believes in traditional family values. The Mormon church, having abandoned polygamy more than a century ago, believes in traditional families too. With that much in common, they have joined forces to “defend the family” and fight progressive social policies at the United Nations. Other members of the holy alliance include Cardinal Alfonso Trujillo, who campaigns against condoms on behalf of the Catholic church, and Mahathir Mohamad, the dictatorial former prime minister of Malaysia who sacked and jailed his deputy for alleged homosexuality.

‘Traditional’ families – meaning…? Don’t tell me; let me guess. Meaning ones where The Man is The Boss and everyone else is subordinate to him. Am I right? Am I in the ballpark?

Opening the conference, Sheikha Mousa bint Nasser al-Misnad, the wife of Qatar’s ruler, announced that the well-being of the family was in peril. She warned against trying to “redefine the concept of family in a manner contrary to religious precepts” – though there was little danger of anyone at the Doha conference doing that. In common with many Muslim states, Qatar rejects basic family rights legislation such as the international Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), using “religious precepts” as an excuse.

Oh look, I am right. We have to preserve and keep and cherish discrimination against women, not eliminate it. Because why? Because Daddy God said so, that’s why. How do we know? We know because somebody wrote it down a long time ago. Ah – well in that case, there’s nothing more to be said. Obviously ‘religious precepts’ have to trump mere silly modern egalitarian ideas about basic human equality. Obviously we simply cannot allow a world without the principle of subordination enshrined at the very heart of it.

And how pleasant that Bangladesh is also pulling its socks up and getting women under control. At this rate, maybe in a decade or two all women everywhere on the planet will be under control, and The City of God will be established on earth.

The quiet was broken now and then by donkey carts clattering past, as village women, seated on the backs of the carts, were taken to the market. The women wore makeshift burkas — black, white, canary yellow — and kept their heads down, and this, the men explained, was Bangla Bhai’s doing.

My imagination is haunted by items like this. How could it not be? One minute you’re living a normal (normal for us, yes) modern autonomous life, where you’re an adult and you get to decide for yourself what you wear and how you hold your head, not to mention when and whether you go out and come in, work and learn, talk and walk and drive – a life where you’re a person like other people, a grown-up like other grown-ups, independent and responsible and competent even as other people are – and the next minute you’re thrust into a bag for the rest of your life and subject to the command and bullying and physical violence of every male human being within a thousand miles – and you’re not allowed to leave. You are so very not allowed to leave. You can’t leave the man who owns you (and a man always does own you – women are not allowed to be unowned by a man in these arrangements), you can’t leave your house or your bag, and you sure as hell can’t leave Islam. You are doubly or triply or quintuply trapped and imprisoned and locked up. Yes – I would say that’s an imagination-haunter.

Nonetheless, it is possible to travel through Bangladesh and observe the increased political and religious repression in everyday life, and to verify the simple remark by one journalist there: ”We are losing our freedom.”…In Bangladesh, ”Islam is becoming the legitimizing political discourse,” according to C. Christine Fair, a South Asia specialist at the United States Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan, federally financed policy group in Washington. ”Once you don that religious mantle, who can criticize you?…Another close observer of Bangladeshi politics, Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch, told me recently: ”The practical effect of politics along religious lines is that you start to accept a religious identity and reject every other. It’s absolutely crucial to understand that this is happening in Bangladesh right now.”

Exactly. Once you don that religious mantle, who can criticize you? And the practical effect of politics along religious lines is that you start to accept a religious identity and reject every other. Combine the two, as all too many people do, and not only in Bangladesh, to put it mildly – and you get an uncriticizable system of ideas that excludes all other ideas. Not a good situation, especially when the system of ideas in question is one that rejects Conventions for Elimination of Discrimination.

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