A Malaysian woman has been sentenced to caning for drinking beer, an offence according to Sharia law. Does that statement shock you? I suspect not. How about this one: she has now requested that Amnesty International stop asking the Malaysian authorities not to cane her, saying she is ready to face the penalty for her "offence".

Part of the problem with Western attitudes towards Muslim women is that their submission to Islam is often thought of as a subjugation: the women, many Westerners think, are forced by mean Muslim men to behave in a certain way. But it's a wildly naive idea. When you begin to analyse the beliefs of Muslim women – and listen to them – you find that they are often just as devoted to their religion as the husbands, brothers and fathers who surround them. Sometimes more so: an Iranian girl who visited Tehran just before the elections told me that it's the female members of the Basij militia who are the most officious – if they spot you with your shawl revealing too much hair, you're in deep trouble.

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