Rachid Nekkaz (pictured) has set up a million euro fund to pay fines for women who choose to wear the full Islamic veil in countries, like France, where it is against the law to do so in public.
A French businessman has set up a fund to pay fines for women who wear Islamic veils or the burqa in public “in whatever country in the world that bans women from doing so”.
Rachid Nekkaz, 38, a real-estate businessman based in Paris, travelled to Belgium on Wednesday to pay 100 euros for two women fined in the first case in the country since the law was adopted there.
“I’m in favour of a law to convict a husband who forces a women to wear the niqab and who forces her to stay at home. But I’m also for a law that lets these women move freely in the streets, because freedom of movement, just like any freedom, is the most fundamental thing in a democracy, ” Nekkaz told reporters outside the courtroom in Belgium.
The same day, he paid a 75 euro fine for a woman in the north-eastern French town of Roubaix.
“I am calling for civil disobedience,” he told FRANCE 24. “I am telling women to not be afraid to go out wearing their veils. And by paying the fines, I am neutering the law, rendering it inefficient and pointless, showing that it doesn’t work. It is a humiliation for the politicians.”
Despite this initiative, Nekkaz disapproves of the veil. “How can a woman truly integrate or find a job if her face is hidden?” he asked.
He has taken exception to the law which came into force in France in April 2011, describing it as a strategy for French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his government to win a bigger share of support from far-right voters.
“This law was 100% politically motivated,” he said. “Sarkozy made a gamble. He knew it was not constitutional, but he went ahead and did it anyway. He knows that if the law ever does get knocked down, it will be well after next year’s election, which he needs to win.”
Nekkaz has launched a legal challenge in both France and Belgium that he hopes to take to the European Court of Human Rights.
Nekkaz claims his actions along with efforts from other associations has forced a change in France, where he believes police are now less keen to impose the fines, and are instead taking the women in for questioning.
“They are afraid of issuing fines because they know that I will simply pay them,” he said. “Instead they subject these women to interrogations, asking them who their parents are, whether they work, whether they have been forced to wear the veil by their husbands.”
“It is unacceptable that they are victimising innocent women who are going about their daily lives. They are not targeting the real criminals, the men who do not even let their wives leave the house.”
Nekkaz accused of political opportunism
Nekkaz, who plans to stand as an independent candidate in next year’s French presidential election, has the support of some women's groups who are campaigning against the French law.
But the businessman has been criticised by some associations who accuse him of exploiting the situation for his own political gain.
“Amazones de la Liberté” is a Paris-based women’s association that is campaigning for the law in France to be completely overturned.
Association president Lila Citar says Nekkaz is using the issue to attract media attention ahead of his presidential bid next year.
Her group also objects to him, as a man, trying to champion what Citar says is essentially a feminist cause.
“Wearing a Niqab is a woman’s choice,” she told FRANCE 24. “It is precisely because of the supposed manipulation by men that politicians say they object to women wearing a full veil.
“Nekkaz is trying to manipulate women. He accuses politicians of being opportunistic - but so is he. He is exploiting this issue as a presidential candidate to get attention in the media.”