Three cheers for Zorro of the niqab
A defiant French businessman made international headlines this week after pledging to foot the bill for any woman fined under France’s recent spate of burkini bans. Since burkini-gate erupted two weeks ago, the controversial swimsuit has been outlawed in 15 towns in south-east France, and three €38 fines have been issued. Thankfully, Rachid Nekkaz, or ‘Zorro of the niqab’ as he’s now known, came to the rescue and paid the fine for all three women.
This isn’t the first time Nekkaz has attracted media attention for challenging the burka – and now burkini – ban. In 2010, as Nicolas Sarkozy’s government was preparing to introduce the burka ban, Nekkaz set up a million-euro fund to cover any fines dealt out by the French police. He claims to have forked out €245,000 since then, helping to defend the civil liberties of 1,165 women in France, 268 in Belgium, two in Holland and one in Switzerland.
Nekkaz, despite having made an unsuccessful bid for the Algerian presidency in 2013, plans to run in the French presidential election next year as an independent candidate. Unsurprisingly, some have cynically dismissed the real-estate mogul’s burkini pledge as political opportunism – a shallow effort to buy public support. A Paris-based women’s association, Amazones de la Liberté, has even criticised him for attempting to hijack a fundamentally female cause.
However, Nekkaz appears to be making a sincere effort to defend freedom. ‘As soon as I see that France is not respecting fundamental liberties, I always get my cheque book out’, he told the Telegraph. ‘I personally am against the niqab and the burkini, but I am like the philosopher Voltaire… once I do not agree, I will fight to the death to give the possibility to these people to express their opinion or to dress as they please. That is freedom.’
Good on you, Zorro. Irrespective of our feelings towards burkas or burkinis, banning them represents an unjustifiable infringement on freedom, and, for the French Republic, an undermining of one of its core values: liberté. Until this crazy ban is overturned, here’s hoping more people like Nekkaz step up to defend freedom, especially for those they disagree with.
Alec Fullerton is a writer and a student at the University of Oxford.
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