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Burqa becomes focus of tense debate in Europe

By Tom Evans, CNN
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Veiled hatred?
  • European lawmaker says full Muslim veil a symbol of political Islam, has no place in Europe
  • Lawmaker Naser Khader is a Syrian-born Conservative member of the Danish Parliament
  • Khader says wearing the burqa and niqab is oppressive of women
  • Khader's remarks reflect tense debate in Europe about the role of Islam on the continent

(CNN) -- As France moves closer to a partial ban on the burqa, a leading European lawmaker declared Wednesday that the full Muslim veil is a symbol of political Islam and has no place in Europe.

"The majority (of Europeans) don't want the political Islam and the symbols of political Islam. And the burqa is part of the political Islam that the majority rejects," Naser Khader, a Syrian-born Conservative member of the Danish Parliament, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

But he insisted that opposing political Islam is not the same as being "Islamophobic."

"Wearing the burqa and niqab is oppressive of women. And many Muslims are against the burqa and niqab," he said, referring to Islamic women's clothing that covers from head to toe.

Video: Should France ban burqas?
  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  • Islam

Khader said the majority of the estimated 20 million Muslims living in the European Union are well-integrated, law-abiding and loyal citizens.

"The burqa and niqab have no place in Western Europe", he added.

Khader's remarks reflected the increasingly tense debate in Europe about the role of Islam in the continent's culture and society. A parliamentary commission in France is recommending that women should not be allowed to wear a full veil in public buildings and on public transportation, and the French government this week denied citizenship to a man who ordered his wife to wear the veil.

This debate is also playing out in countries such as Switzerland, where voters last year supported a ban on the construction of minarets on mosques, and in Denmark, where the cartoonist responsible for the 2005 controversial drawings of the Prophet Mohammad survived a New Year's Day attack by a Somali man wielding an ax.

Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan told Amanpour that less than 2,000 women in France are wearing the headscarf and the niqab. He urged lawmakers and others not to escalate the anger to the point where discussion is no longer possible.

"By banning the burqa, banning the way people are dressing, we are against our own values," Ramadan said. "In fact, we are nurturing fear, and we are not having a constructive debate. Islam is a European religion, and it's part of society."

His view was strongly challenged by former Dutch lawmaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has received death threats for her anti-Islamic views and who now lives in the United States.

"Islam is not a European religion," she said. "What we are seeing in Europe is that there is conflict between the values of Europe and the values of Islam."

She added, "We are having a discussion about basic human values that Europeans have resolved and Muslims have not."

Ramadan struck back, saying Hirsi Ali should listen to what U.S. President Barack Obama was saying about Muslims to the Islamic world.

"He was also saying to the Americans, 'Look Islam is an American religion.' We have millions of Europeans who are abiding by the law, speaking the language of the country, and they are now loyal to their country -- and they're doing it (the clothing) as an act of faith."

Hirsi Ali, though, referred to the failed Chirstmas Day attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner, saying Muslims are stuffing explosives into their underwear and taking flights to kill innocent people. She said jihad is a major concept in Islam that enables terrorists to say that God is telling them to kill.

She argued that Ramadan wanted to "tranquilize everyone into believing that Islam is a religion of peace."

Ramadan vigorously rejected Hirsi Ali's assertions. He said, "What we have today is a new visibility of Muslims, and that's true."

"Let us really look at the facts and figures. We have a tiny minority of women who are wearing the niqab and the burqa, and we have some extremist views that we have to condemn by saying it's wrong to kill innocent people."

He said no one can impose the wearing of the clothing, and women should be autonomous and free, adding that killing innocent people is simply not acceptable.

Khader told Amanpour, "We have a minority that is living in ghettos and parallel societies... and that's the problem. The small groups are making the problem for the majority."