Representatives of the banned but tolerated Muslim brotherhood movement on Wednesday criticised Italian prime minister Romano Prodi’s comments on Tuesday that Muslim immigrant women should not be completely “hidden” behind full veils if they want to integrate and become part of Italy’s future, accusing him – and other European politicians who have weighed in to the debate – of double standards. “The freedom proclaimed by Western countries is only a partial one which reflects the values of some cultures but not others,” Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, Gelil Sharnoubi, told Adnkronos International (AKI).

Sharnoubi accused the West of “tolerating homosexuality, under the banner of individual freedom of choice, while branding women who exercise their right to wear the full veil as fanatics.”

Muslim Brotherhood spiritual guidance office member, Gomaa Amin, also shared Sharnoubi’s view. “We do not consider the use of the [eyes-only] niqab to be obligatory and we do not encourage it. But wearing it is a question of personal freedom and judgement and on principle it cannot be banned,” Aman said.

“European society allows Jews to wear the kippah [the skullcap worn by many Jewish men and boys] but baulks at a woman wearing the veil,” Amin remarked. The problem that unlike the skulllcap, the niqab conceals the face – something prohibited by Italian law – could be dealt with by stationing police outside universities, shopping centres or wherever security threats might arise, Amin said.

“According to Islamic culture, a women’s body should not be shown to everyone on grounds of modesty – something invoked by Islam. The true problem is that Western liberty excludes Muslim women,” Amin concluded.

In his comments made in an interview on Tuesday with Reuters TV, Prodi had been asked to comment on Britain’s House of Commons leader Jack Straw’s revelation earlier in October that he asked Muslim women visiting his constituency surgery to remove their veils as he believes it helpful to race relations. The remarks angered many Muslims and sparked political controversy in Britain.

In Germany, Muslim community leaders in interviews published on Sunday in Bild weekly divided opinion among the country’s three million Muslims – mainly of Turkish and Moroccan origins – by suggesting Muslim women should not wear full veils.