Frenchman pays burka ban fines amid US criticism
A French businessman, Rachid Nekkaz on Monday paid fines imposed on two women who were wearing face-covering niqab veils on the streets of Belgium.
A 19 year old Belgian girl of Moroccan origin had been fined 62 euros near Brussels, and a 35 year old woman of Italian origin had been told to pay 150 euros in Charleroi.
Nekkaz, who made his fortune in the technology and property sectors, is also spokesperson for the civil liberties organisation “Don’t tamper with my constitution”.
He disagrees with the law in Belgium, under which, like in France, it is illegal to wear headgear which covers the face, such as the niqab or burka.
Nekkaz says he himself is personally opposed to the niqab and favours a ban in closed public spaces, such as public buildings and banks.
However, he says the street belongs to everyone and so women should be able to wear face-covering veils in the street, if they so wish.
Nekkaz stipulated that he only paid fines for women who first signed written statements rejecting extremism.
He has already declined to pay fines incurred by a woman who refused to remove her veil for an identity check, and whose Salafist muslim supporters, were responsible for clashes in Brussels.
“We have appealed to people to ignore this law, but not to insult the country or government which passed it,” said Nekkaz.
Meanwhile, the French foreign ministry today dismissed criticism in a US State department report, which condemned the French law which bans face-covering veils.
"Our conception of secularism is a common heritage of all French people, which implies rules that encourage social harmony in the public space and in public schools," said a foreign ministry spokesman.
In its 2011 International Religious Freedom Report, the State Department complains about a "rising number of European countries, including Belgium and France, whose laws restricting dress adversely affected Muslims and others".
US President Barack Obama fiercely criticised European moves to ban the veil in a major speech to the Muslim world in Cairo in 2009.
But in Europe, where many voters feel that such veils pose a threat to women's rights, some see France and Belgium as leading the way on this issue.