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The Growing Fearfulness of Muslims in Europe

Aired February 03, 2010 - 15:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, are Europeans suffering an identity crisis? Is Islamophobia rising?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Welcome to our program.

From burqas to minarets, Muslim symbols are under assault in Europe. The French immigration minister on Tuesday said that he will deny citizenship to a man who ordered his wife to wear a full Islamic veil, and this happened just a week after a parliamentary commission recommended a partial ban on any veil that covers the face.

A recent opinion poll says that almost 3 in 5 French people support the recommendation, but some Muslims say that it threatens their religious identity. CNN's Jim Bittermann met two women who choose to wear the full veil.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mabrouka Boujnah, of Tunisian origin, and her friend, Oumkheyr from Algeria, say they prefer to cover their faces out of piety. Oumkheyr, in her 40s and not married, says she even has friends who wear full veils against the wishes of their husbands.

The pair, both French citizens, insist they're only following their religious beliefs and France should respect that.

Still, even some Muslims here think the full veil goes too far. An imam at a suburban Paris mosque says there is nothing in the Koran that directs women to cover their faces and says it's ridiculous to do so in France. Other religious leaders are angry about the public debate, which they say once again casts Islam in a negative light.


AMANPOUR: And that public debate is not confined to France. In Switzerland, voters last year approved a ban on the construction of minarets on top of mosques. And Islamic anger over the 2005 Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad continues to this day. After years of threat, there was a vicious attack on the cartoonist in his home on New Year's Day.

So joining me now to discuss all of this, from Copenhagen, Naser Khader, a Syrian-born member of the Danish parliament who represents the Conservative Party. And later, we hope to have Tariq Ramadan, a leading Islamic scholar from Oxford University who will join us from Paris. Here in the studio, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Dutch lawmaker. She's an outspoken critic of Islam and now lives in the United States after death threats.

Thank you both for joining us. Let me go straight to you, Mr. Khader there in Copenhagen. What is going on in Europe? Is there genuinely an identity crisis? Or is this fear-mongering and negative stereotype?

NASER KHADER, DANISH LAWMAKER: Let me first (inaudible) point out that the majority of the Muslims in Western Europe are doing well. They are well-integrated, law-abiding, and loyal citizens. And the majority in Denmark are a part of the labor force, and they contribute to this society. And the majority of the Danish people are open-minded and want to include the Muslims.

But what the majority doesn't want is the political Islam and the symbols of political Islam. And the burqa is a part of the political Islam that the majority rejects.

AMANPOUR: OK, so in other words, what the French are doing -- Mr. Khader, would the majority of Muslims in Denmark support what the French are doing, and that is banning what they call the burqa, but what really is the niqab, the full face veil?

KHADER: You know, my party, the Conservative Party, we proposed last summer a general ban on burqa and niqab, but the justice department in Denmark told us that it will be in conflict with the Danish constitution.

So now we are trying to do it difficult for a woman to wear burqa and niqab, because it is (inaudible) of women wearing burqa and niqab, and it has nothing to do with Islam.


KHADER: And in an open society, as the Danish, we have to see each other's faces. So being against the burqa and niqab are not the same as being against Islam. Being against the political Islam is not the same as being Islamophobic.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, let me ask you, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. You've gone through your own issues with being -- with all of this in the Netherlands. Your friend, Theo van Gogh, was assassinated by an anti -- or by an Islamic fanatic.



AMANPOUR: What do you make of banning the burqa? You heard Naser Khader saying that generally people accept it and like it.

ALI: Well, I don't care what people wear. And I've been a member of parliament, and we discussed covering one's face in the context of security. If you wear a mask or cover your face in a context where we're facing terrorism, where the CCTV camera is where everybody has to give -- show their identity, then coming out and saying, "I want to cover my face on grounds of religion," I would support. We say, no, not your religion, but the security of the community takes first place.

Discussing the burqa and niqab, I would say to Muslim women -- and it's every time when I hear about headscarves, burqas, niqabs, I always think, let's discuss the principles that underlie them. If you cover yourself -- and I grew up as a Muslim.

I know what it means. It means, I, as a woman, have to cover my body, my face, everything about me, so that the male can have no sexual temptations or, if he has them, he can control himself, and that's what we need to be talking about. We need to be discussing those principles that underlie the dress, the dress code, and instead of...

AMANPOUR: Well, what about the two ladies who spoke with our correspondent, Jim Bittermann, saying that, frankly, they do it by choice, they want to do it, and if they didn't do it, they would feel more restricted, because they wouldn't be able to go out in the open?

ALI: Well, if they do that in open societies, if you flaunt your religion in open society, then you have to expect that people are going to react to it. That's how we do things in Europe. That's how we do things in the United States.

So cover yourself that way, come out into the open space, into the public space, flaunt your religion and your politics, and expect no discussion and say everyone who asks you a question about it to call them Islamophobic, that's what is wrong.

AMANPOUR: All right. And I'm going to -- I'm going to play this short bit of an interview from Andre Gerin, who's the French parliamentarian who's head of the commission on the burqa, which just came out with these recommendations. Listen to what he has to say about it.


ANDRE GERIN, FRENCH PARLIAMENTARIAN (through translator): It is, perhaps, a marginal problem, but it is the visible part of the iceberg. Behind the iceberg is a black tide of fundamentalism which is happening in certain parts of our country, a kind of Sharia, and it's not possible. It is completely contradictory with the way we live, the laws of the French republic.


AMANPOUR: Well, Ayaan Hirsi Ali just said, "Fantastic." You obviously agree completely with what he just said.

ALI: I agree completely with what he said.

AMANPOUR: A black tide of fundamentalism.

ALI: Yeah.

AMANPOUR: All right. Let me go to Tariq Ramadan, who's now joining us from Paris. Presumably you heard what Mr. Gerin just said there. Is that hyperbole? Is that an exaggeration? I mean, is a veil really the tip of the iceberg of a tide of fundamentalism?

TARIQ RAMADAN, ISLAMIC SCHOLAR: Look, first, it is an exaggeration, because all the figures that we have in France and even throughout Europe are showing that it's a tiny minority of women who are wearing the niqab and the burqa.

And at the end of the day, the question here is a question of visibility and how -- if we agree or not with the niqab is not the question. Myself as an Islamic scholar am not supporting it, but we have some scholars saying it's Islamic. So how are you going to change the perceptions and the interpretations by banning it, by pushing the woman to go home, or by having something (inaudible) and educational process within the Muslim community?

AMANPOUR: Well, how do...

RAMADAN: So this is the first point which is really important.

AMANPOUR: Well, how do you...

RAMADAN: But the second point which is important, if I may...

AMANPOUR: I want to ask you how you resolve this issue, because one of the imams in France just this week, who supported this ban, he then got threats from fellow imams. So how do you have this discussion not just within Muslim and non-Muslim parts of society, but within the Muslim part of society, let's say, in France?

RAMADAN: But this is it. This is it. I really think that -- don't make it controversial and symbolic at a point where the discussion is no longer possible, because it's so -- you know, we have less than 2,000 women wearing the headscarf and -- the niqab in France, and we are coming with a law and discussing six months of controversy.

And one point which is really important, what we heard coming from Denmark, it's exactly what we heard here. In fact, by banning the burqa, banning the way the people are dressing, we are against our own values. In fact, we are nurturing fear, and we are not having a constructive debate.

So I would prefer to have Muslim citizens, European citizens and French citizens to be part of the process and together to find ways to reach the people, to make them understand the right way to understand Islam.


But banning, coming with laws and restrictions, and (inaudible) conscience, this is not going to work. This is -- this is simply a dogmatic mind responding to the reality of a religious community which is settling down. And now we have to get it. Islam is a European religion, and it's part of the society.

AMANPOUR: All right. If that's the case, Mr. Khader, you're an MP, Syrian-born. You are a member of the Danish parliament. How does one have this discussion without these spikes of controversy and phobias and fear?

KHADER: I think -- you know, first, I have to say it's not a question of number. One is one too many. Burqa and niqab has no place in Western Europe.

The second I want to say is, maybe 1 of 10 women chooses herself, but 9 of 10 doesn't do it herself. So, you know, burqa and niqab -- in Denmark, we have around 200 women wearing burqa and niqab. And...

AMANPOUR: Two hundred women in all of Denmark? That's all?

KHADER: In all of Denmark, yeah. That's what a report told us. We don't know it exactly. We don't know it exactly. But it's -- one is one too much. You know, it's about principles. Wearing burqa and niqab is oppressive of women. And many Muslims are against the burqa and niqab. And it's a phenomena that is increasing in the Muslim world, but also in Western Europe.

So the Danish people are not against Islam. They want to live with a peaceful Islam. The Danish people are against political Islam and its symbols.

AMANPOUR: Right, so...

KHADER: And so, during the cartoon crisis -- you know, during the cartoon crisis, we saw the majority of the Muslims, they demonstrate for Denmark, and they showed they were loyal to Denmark and Danish society...

AMANPOUR: We'll talk about -- we'll talk about that right after a break. We'll be back with more from our guests in a moment, so stay with us.



BERNARD KOUCHNER, FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER: What is absolutely clear, for all the political spectrum in France, we cannot support this oppression of women. This is in the name of the women and the women (inaudible) that we are fighting against that, not -- no burqa in the public sector. For the rest, it has not been decided. But, you know, this is in the name of, let's say, the women's lib, if I may say so.


AMANPOUR: In the name of women's lib. That was French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner talking to me last week.

And joining me again, our guests, Danish lawmaker Naser Khader, Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, and the former Dutch MP, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Now, you were busy nodding your head frantically, saying that you got all heated up. I mean, Tariq Ramadan is saying that Islam is part of Europe now.


It is a European religion. Get used to it. Some people will want to wear their religious symbols, just like nuns wear habits. What's wrong with that?

ALI: Islam is not a European religion. There are Muslims in Europe, and they bring Islam to Europe. Islam is a set of beliefs. It's a set of values. And what we are seeing in Europe is that there is conflict between the values of Europe and the values of Islam. And those Muslims who adapt, choose to adapt to the values of Europe will become Europeans, and they will be able to believe and to practice the religious dimension of their religion...

AMANPOUR: I guess my -- what my question is...

ALI: ... of Islam. But they will not be able -- and I think they're going to run into problems if they try to bring political Islam into Europe, and that's what we're seeing. We are having a discussion...

AMANPOUR: About political Islam.

ALI: ... about the political dimension of Islam. Islam has a political dimension. It has a social dimension, for instance, women's position. It also has a religious dimension. We are not having a discussion about praying five times a day, fasting at Ramadan, et cetera. But we are having a discussion about basic human values that European have resolved and Muslims have not.

AMANPOUR: OK. Tariq Ramadan, Europeans have resolved basic human and democratic values and Muslims have not. And would you buy the idea that, in fact, a lot of these women in France are doing it as a political gesture and as a -- as a sort of identity, a national identity?

RAMADAN: It has nothing to do with this. Look, what we have now -- and this has to be also -- you know, we have a conservative MP from Denmark, and we have someone who is speaking about Islam, saying in order to be European, you have to be less Muslim, because Islam has in itself a political dimension.

So I think that we are not listening to what the Muslims -- the European Muslims and the American Muslims are saying. I think that Hirsi Ali should listen to what the president, Barack Obama, was saying when he was talking to the Muslims and to the Muslim -- the Muslim majority countries.

He was also saying to the Americans, look, Islam is an American religion, and now we have to rely on fact and figures. We have millions of European Muslims who are abiding by the law, speaking the language of the country, and they are now loyal to their country. And they are doing this as an act of faith.

It's not for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, even though she was a Muslim, it doesn't mean that because you were a Muslim, you are open-minded. You were a Muslim...

ALI: Mr. Ramadan...

RAMADAN: ... maybe and some others. The point is...

ALI: Mr. Ramadan, we are having...

RAMADAN: ... that we have Muslims today who are abiding...

ALI: No, Mr. Ramadan, we are having -- we are having Muslims...

RAMADAN: ... by the law, and I am a European. I am a European.

ALI: I'm sorry. We're having Muslims who are stuffing explosives into their underwear and who are taking flights to kill innocent people.

AMANPOUR: But that's got nothing to do with the veil, Hirsi.

ALI: It doesn't have anything to do with the veil.

RAMADAN: Who is speaking about killing innocent people?

ALI: But it has to do -- it has to do with...

RAMADAN: Who is speaking about killing innocent people?

ALI: ... reading the Koran, participating in jihad, which is a major concept in Islam, and who say it is my religion, it's my God who tells me to kill innocent people, it's my God who makes me impose...

RAMADAN: We are saying exactly the opposite. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

ALI: You are not saying exactly the opposite. You are an Islamist in the closet.

RAMADAN: We are sorry. We are sorry.

ALI: You are saying you want to tranquilize everyone into believing that Islam is a religion of peace...

RAMADAN: Look, this -- I'm sorry.

ALI: ... and come out and say, as the numbers increase. I do not like your argument. I'm very suspicious of your argument when you say it's only a small minority of people, when you know in places like Iran...



ALI: ... in Egypt, in Algeria, that it all started out with a small group, with a number of minorities, and that increased.


ALI: And in democracies, numbers matter. Demography matters.

AMANPOUR: Ayaan -- Ayaan, she's made a very strong point. Tariq, listen. She's made a very strong point, and she's basically echoing what Andre Gerin said, in a way, that this veil is the visible part of an iceberg and, behind that, is a black tide of fundamentalism. So obviously people like Ayaan and the people like the French government believe that this is the beginning of some kind of tidal wave.

ALI: It's empirics (ph). It's not just the belief...


AMANPOUR: But hold on a second -- no, hold on a second.


ALI: It is the beginning, Iran, in 1970s. There were only about 10 people who were wearing the veil.


AMANPOUR: Would you let him respond, Ayaan? Go ahead.

RAMADAN: Let me...

AMANPOUR: Go ahead, Tariq.

RAMADAN: I'm sorry. It's impossible to speak. It's impossible to speak to someone who has (inaudible) and the problem is...


ALI: Maybe it's the first time you're listening.

RAMADAN: ... Islam, per se. So let me -- let me finish, please. What we have today is a new visibility of Muslims, and that's true. Let us really look at 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, it's wrong to impose anything in the name of Islam.


And what is said by the great, great majority of the Muslims around the world and in Europe, as well as in the states, is that it has to be a free choice. We cannot impose even the headscarf. The women should be autonomous and free and no violence. And killing innocent people as it was done in the states or anywhere else...

ALI: That is not true.

RAMADAN: ... in Muslim (inaudible) countries, this is not acceptable. So the point is now, let me come to what Gerin is saying. Gerin is saying...

ALI: But he's not...


RAMADAN: ... of the Muslims, that there is a problem. Let me -- let me finish. Let me finish. There is, yes, a problem with the new visibility, because the people are perceiving this new visibility as a new colonization. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. It's that the Muslims are...


ALI: Mr. Ramadan, it has nothing to do with colonization.


AMANPOUR: Hold on. Hold on one second.


ALI: ... immigrants -- Muslim immigrants to Europe...

RAMADAN: Ayaan Hirsi Ali -- Ayaan Hirsi Ali wants to...


ALI: I came to Europe. You came to Europe.

AMANPOUR: Ayaan? Hold on one second.


AMANPOUR: Tariq, hold on one second. Tariq?

RAMADAN: ... Ayaan Hirsi Ali, let me -- let me...


AMANPOUR: Hold on. Sir, hold on. No, hold on a second.

RAMADAN: Ayaan Hirsi Ali...

AMANPOUR: You will get your chance in one minute. Hold on.


AMANPOUR: I want to read some statistics, because there's obviously a lot of -- a lot of sort of stereotyping going on. Look, 90 percent of Muslims in Belgium feel very strong sense of local belonging; 78 percent of Muslims in England feel a sense of belonging to Britain; 49 percent of Muslims in France feel a sense of belonging; and 23 percent who feel German.

Let me go to Naser Khader for the last word. Why is such a lot of hysteria, when the facts speak to mostly integrated Muslims? Why do politicians and...


AMANPOUR: ... elements of the media focus so hard on -- on the few people who maybe want to wear the niqab or the veil or whatever it is, Naser?

KHADER: You know, the discussion about niqab and burqa is just a little part of the discussion of political Islam. As I started saying, that the majority of the Muslims in Western Europe and in Denmark are well- integrated and loyal citizens.

A recent survey in Denmark told us that the majority of the Muslims in Denmark are an integral part of the labor force. Many of them are becoming a part of the Danish middle class.

But we have -- but we have a minority that living in ghettos in parallel societies. Physically, they are living in Denmark in the West, but mentally they are living in the Middle East.


KHADER: And that's the problem. The small groups are making the problem for the majority.

AMANPOUR: All right. Now, we have to finish this conversation on TV, but we have a webcast, and we're going to continue this online. So if you would stand by, we will have that after this broadcast.

But for now, for more on Muslims in Europe, go to, where we have an interview with a French Muslim woman who says that a ban on the burqa would isolate her from French society. That's another view.

Next, our "Post-Script," a fascinating look at the intersection of Islam and Christianity in one family in Britain. We'll be right back.



AMANPOUR: And now our "Post-Script," after that very lively discussion. The Muslim population in Britain is one of the largest in Europe at just over 2 million. It includes many converts, including journalist Yvonne Ridley, who you might remember was briefly held prisoner by the Taliban in 2001. Yvonne's mother did not support her daughter's conversion. Just look at this short film clip.


YVONNE RIDLEY, JOURNALIST: When I sent you an e-mail, because I didn't have the guts to tell you to your face that I'd become a Muslim, you said it was like a death in the family, and that's what started you going to church again.

JOYCE RIDLEY, MOTHER OF YVONNE RIDLEY: Well, it didn't really start me going, but I suppose it made me more -- it more important to me to go to church, because I had to start praying for you.

YVONNE RIDLEY: Whenever I come back to Tanfield (ph), I think I'm the only hijabi (ph) in the village.

JOYCE RIDLEY: Yes, and I'm glad you don't go out very much.

YVONNE RIDLEY: Oh, Mom. Are you ashamed of me?

JOYCE RIDLEY: Well, I'm not ashamed of you, but I can't get used to the idea of you wearing the hijab.

YVONNE RIDLEY: I suppose you'll be having bacon sandwiches, as well?

JOYCE RIDLEY: Bacon sandwiches are the tastiest thing on this Earth.

YVONNE RIDLEY: Oh, Mother. You are what you eat, and if you saw what pigs ate, you would never touch another pork chop again.

JOYCE RIDLEY: The last thing your dad had before he died was a bacon sandwich. He walked out into the garden and he...

YVONNE RIDLEY: And dropped down dead.

JOYCE RIDLEY: Dropped down, yeah.


AMANPOUR: Differing points of view. The Open Society Institute says that Muslims in Britain are better integrated than in other parts of Europe. And as we said earlier, almost 80 percent of Muslims in the U.K. identify themselves as British.

So to see a longer version of this film, go to our Web site, You can also submit a short video about your world, and we may play it right here.

And that's it for now. We'll be back tomorrow with a look at China. For all of us here, goodbye for now from New York.