THE veil is a mark of separation and defiance against mainstream British culture and women are harassed for wearing them, says Britain's first Muslim peer.
Lord Ahmed of Rotherham called for a sensible and sensitive debate among Muslims on whether veils were needed in today's society.
The Labour peer said he did not want the face veil - niqab - to be banned by law, but said they were meant to be worn so women would not be harassed but were now having the opposite effect in Britain.
Lord Ahmed made his comments after leading a debate in Doha, Qatar, in the Middle East, on Monday in which he spoke first on the motion: "This house believes that niqab (the face veil) is a barrier to integration in the West."
His comments come after a bitter row last November when a teaching assistant at a Dewsbury school was sacked for refusing to remove her veil.
Muslim teaching assistant Aishah Azmi, 24, was sacked by Kirklees Council for refusing to remove her veil in the classroom after staff at Headfield Church of England Junior School in Dewsbury said pupils found it hard to understand her.
Lord Ahmed, who became the first Muslim peer in 1988, said: "The veil is now a mark of separation, segregation and defiance against mainstream British culture.
"But there's nothing in the Koran to say that the wearing of a niqab is desirable, let alone compulsory. It's purely cultural. It's an identity thing which has been misinterpreted.
"They were supposed to be worn so that women wouldn't be harassed.
"But my argument is that women, and communities as a whole, are now being harassed because they are wearing them."
He said the veil was a "physical barrier to integration".
The peer said Muslims in Britain must become more sensitive to their surroundings, in the same way as Westerners walking around the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh would need to wear a head covering and long clothing before they could expect to engage with local people.
He said he did not want to see a ban on veils, but added: "Muslims need to have a debate among ourselves about whether we need them."