Megan Stack looks back on being a woman reporter in Saudi Arabia:
One afternoon, a candidate invited me to meet his daughter. She spoke fluent English and was not much younger than me. I cannot remember whether she was wearing hijab, the Islamic head scarf, inside her home, but I have a memory of pink. I asked her about the elections.
“Very good,” she said.
So you really think so, I said gently, even though you can’t vote?
“Of course,” she said. “Why do I need to vote?”
Her father chimed in. He urged her, speaking English for my benefit, to speak candidly. But she insisted: What good was voting? She looked at me as if she felt sorry for me, a woman cast adrift on the rough seas of the world, no male protector in sight.
“Maybe you don’t want to vote,” I said. “But wouldn’t you like to make that choice yourself?”
“I don’t need to,” she said calmly, blinking slowly and deliberately. “If I have a father or a husband, why do I need to vote? Why should I need to work? They will take care of everything.”
When people like Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens cite this kind of thing as an example of the evils of religion, a common response ((can’t find a good cite now – sorry)) is that it’s not religion, it’s just culture; the Saudi tribespeople were patriarchal long before Islam, and women have always been treated as chattels in that part of he world. But religion is the main reason why cultures fail to adapt, to evolve. Religions tend to divide the world into black and white, good and evil, “sacred” and “profane”, “kosher” and “non-kosher”, “halal” and “haram”. It also treats the “sacred” stuff as an inseparable whole: to challenge any part is to attack the whole. (Thus the wish of two lesbians in Vermont to celebrate their relationship becomes an attack on all families, undermines the moral fabric of the nation, and – Falwell, Robertson et al – is a root cause of the 9/11 attacks.)
This is why religion is so poisonous to the civic order: it stands foursquare against compromise, adaption, and personal choice. Saudi Arabia is just the most outrageous example.