The French National Assembly has just done a huge favor to those elements in the Muslim world that thrive on anti-Westernism. By voting to ban the veil in public places -- a move that brings a draft bill closer to becoming law -- it has transformed a minor social irritant for a section of the French public into a major political issue. In doing so, it is feeding worldwide Muslim resentment against the West almost on par with the occupation of the Palestinian territories and the invasion of Iraq.

This act is seen throughout the Muslim world as a deliberate provocation and may bring about equally provocative responses. It is also seen as a clear signal that most French and indeed most Europeans believe that some Islamic social mores, even if practiced only by a very small fringe element of Muslim women, as in this case, are incompatible with European "values."

It also makes European advocacy of human rights, especially women's rights, ring hollow by making it clear that in this instance it is used in the service of racism. In short, it bears out the "clash of civilizations" thesis propagated by the likes of Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis and political scientist Samuel Huntington on the one hand and Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri on the other.

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