An Islamic head scarf goes to Parliament?

Asama Abdol-Hamid, a female Muslim social worker in Denmark, announces her candidacy for elective office. Why are some Danes so scared?

Published May 1, 2007 3:30PM (EDT)

Nominee for best globalization sentence of the week:

"If you don't shake hands with men, you can't be a part of the Danish Parliament," said Hamid El Mousti, a member of Copenhagen's city council.

The quote comes from an Associated Press article about Asama Abdol-Hamid, a Muslim woman living in Denmark who announced last week that she intends to run for election to the Danish Parliament in 2009. This has excited much fervor by parties on the left and right who are alarmed by Abdol-Hamid's customary Islamic head scarf. Oh, and instead of shaking hands with men, "she greets them by laying her right hand on her heart in Muslim tradition."

A Danish newspaper, of course, set off an international frenzy when it printed a series of cartoons making fun of Mohammed. According to the AP, Abdol-Hamid, a social worker, first came to public attention in 2006 when, while wearing her head scarf, she hosted a Danish television program that aimed "to promote dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims in Denmark in the wake of the prophet cartoon crisis."

The AP's Karl Ritter writes that many Danes are afraid that Muslim immigrants will inject their conservative social values into liberal Danish society. One might wonder exactly how it is that the prospect of a female Muslim social worker in Parliament supports that fear. Abdol-Hamid's own words tell a different story.

"I want another Denmark where we talk about the difference between groups," she said at a news conference announcing her candidacy. "When we talk about values, (we need) to be open to whatever people are, Muslim or non-Muslim."

Abdol-Hamid has repeatedly been questioned about her views on the death penalty, gender equality and gay rights -- issues on which many Danes believe Islam conflicts with their values.

Abdol-Hamid said she does not support the death penalty, which is outlawed in Denmark, and is "unconcerned with whatever sexual or ethnic background people have."

"We have a constitution in Denmark and it will be upheld," she added, smiling broadly under a shimmering, turquoise head scarf.

She's got my vote.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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