Ataturk (1881-1938) was a product of his time and generation. Having watched the once great Ottoman Empire humbled, he struggled to save what territory he could for modern Turkey. Once Turkey's borders were secured he set about trying to modernize Turkey and bring it into the modern age.
A key plank of his strategy was to fully integrate women into mainstream Turkish society. To this end, he granted women the right to vote and banned the wearing of the veil.
In the authoritarian environment of the 1920s, such actions were possible. Not easy, but possible. (As part of Ataturk's modernizing reforms, in 1925 Ataturk outlawed men from wearing the Fez. The ban resulted in civil unrest in many parts of Turkey.)
French civil society of 2010 is an entirely different matter. And Sarkozy is not a national war hero with cult-like standing whose every word is sacred to the French people.
So when the French Parliament's lower house passes legislation banning the face veil there are bound to be repercussions. One need only examine the politicization of the hijab (not niqab) in Turkey and other parts of the world to determine how polarizing such issues can become.
Of course, the niqab and hijab are distinct items of clothing. Sheikh Mohamed Tantawi, the late Dean of Islam's oldest and most respected center of learning, Al-Azhar University, is on record stating that full face veiling has no relationship with Islam. In fact, during a visit to a girls' school in Cairo he ordered a student to remove the face veil.
Arguments against the niqab notwithstanding, the action by French lawmakers' raises another question. Is it worthwhile for a national legislative body to spend so much time and energy devising a law which affects as estimated 2,000 people out of a population of 64 million? Surely, a management consultant would argue that such efforts are a waste of taxpayer money.
Psychologists generally suggest that in order to modify behaviour, positive reinforcement works better than negative reinforcement. Imposing fines for wearing the niqab is negative reinforcement. Perhaps picking out Muslim women role models from mainstream French society – 'middle of the road' mothers, housewives and professionals – and projecting them as the embodiment of 'French' values might work better?
Although the niqab is primarily worn by Arabs, it has slowly permeated other parts of the Islamic world. Here a woman is shown wearing the niqab in Palu, Indonesia
Yes, the niqab is misguided and deviant Islam must be fought tooth and nail. (Perhaps the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' inspired one-eyed veil suggested by a Saudi cleric will be replace the niqab one day!) However, populist legislation may not be the best way forward. Isn't there enough fodder for Islamic extremists to feed upon while espousing their jihad against Western civilization – banning mosque minarets, cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, foreign troops in Iraq and Afghanistan?
France is for the French, just as Switzerland is for the Swiss. But to the Islamic world it does seem as if Muslims are needlessly singled out for recrimination by the rest of the world.
For ordinary Muslims, it's tough to see the world only in black and white. But global political trends are fast shrinking the shades of grey in which I and millions of other Muslims thrive!