French businessman to pay all burqa fines

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…

“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.”

For more, go here.

11 thoughts on “French businessman to pay all burqa fines

  1. I think this is an excellent thing; it has always been at least worrisome that these bans work by placing so much of the burden of sanction on the women in question.

  2. I think it’s great. Burqa bans are really quite loathsome from many perspectives, but, in particular, from their actual material effects.

    Andreas, this would be a good point if there were substantive evidence that 1) such laws led to good outcomes (i.e., women were using them in the way you suggest and the general result was them being successful rather than, say, ending up stuck at home) and 2) that it didn’t (overall) unduly burden women who wanted to wear the veil.

  3. Oh, and I think the way he’s going about it is great (assuming that he makes an offer rather than being overly pushy about it). He’s directly and materially supporting the women. He’s expressing that it’s in support of their autonomy even though he disagrees with the practice.

    I’m rather confused by:

    “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.

    This seems wrongheaded. I would think that 1) trying to run on a feminist issue and 2) actually materially helping women affected by the ban is a really good way for a male politician to act. How cool would it be if some rich pro-choice US politician set up a fund to help poor women get access to abortions? (e.g., funding travel to clinics in states with few restrictions)

  4. This sounds reasonable.

    But a new similar initiative by the same person, of setting up a fund to pay fines for whoever is accused of Armenian genocide denial, does not sound as good:
    http://www.todayszaman.com/news-267564-businessman-launches-fund-to-combat-frances-genocide-bill.html

    I don’t mean to say that the latter initiative somehow cancels out the first. Just adding more information about the person (I’ve got curious and tried googling more about him).

  5. IY, oh, eww. Ow.

    Hmm. But from a US freedom of speech perspective, the latter bill does seem wrong as well. As a means of pressuring Turkey to change its public stance it seems…suboptimal.

    Reading up a bit suggests that you could acknowledge the events (i.e., that the specific number of people were killed, etc.) but get fined if you claimed that it wasn’t, technically, an act of genocide, but “only” a massacre. Note that the position of the UK “is that it condemns the massacres, but did not find them qualified enough under 1948 UN Convention on Genocide to call them genocide and did not believe the UN Convention rules could be applied retroactively.”

    I don’t think that’s ideal, but it doesn’t seem to be a criminal position! Indeed, qua academic, I think that’s a pretty bad law. (Laws recognizing the event as genocide, fine. Laudable! Criminalizing failure to agree about the appropriateness of the term is very bad.)

  6. Thanks for your thoughts, Bijan! My position on the genocide denial law is actually more nuanced (and closer to yours) than it might have seemed from the short comment I wrote.

    I don’t know much about the background of the French law in question, and I suspect (as I’ve said, not knowing much) that it involves a lot of political posturing rather than genuine concern over genocides.

    But regardless of the politics of moment which makes some laws passable at a given moment, there’s also the content. As a thought experiment, imagine a country which introduces women suffrage because the parties in power believe women will predominantly vote for them if granted the right (and don’t actually care that much about equality). The reasons may be wrong, but the content of the law may establish equality, and it’s the content which matters in the long run.

    Now to the genocide denial. Of course a law about the appropriateness of a term is a highly symbolic act. It does not save anyone’s live, etc. etc. But what is its effect? Suppose we have a person who wants to deny that a certain very big massacre was a genocide. Is that person’s right to deny that so important it’s worth protection? I understand how one may think it is (especially if one believes speech should not be restricted at all), but I don’t think so. I don’t see any positive value of such a claim, any way in which it could be an expression of one’s constructive position, any way in which it could be useful to any person on earth. Exactly for the reason that it is about the appropriateness of a term, I don’t see how one’s right to deny the term is applicable could make much difference.

    At the same time, such a law may have a big symbolic value for the people who are related to the group which was singled out for massacring.

    To sum up, even though I don’t deem the French law so important that every country should adopt it, for me, the positive side of its content (the meaning for the victims and those who identify with them) for me is stronger than its negative side (a restriction of free speech in this respect).

  7. Hi IY,

    Nice points, but I’m afraid I have to disagree. Not about your general, well taken, point that the content of the law can redeem its motivation, but about the content.

    The law actually is “You may not deny as genocide anything that the French government officially recognizes as genocide”. Thus far, they’ve only recognized the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide. But there are three key issues, putting aside the general freedom of speech bits.

    1) “But what is its effect? Suppose we have a person who wants to deny that a certain very big massacre was a genocide. Is that person’s right to deny that so important it’s worth protection.”

    Yes, I absolutely think this is important enough to be worth protection. For example, scholars disagree as to whether certainly mass killings meet various formal definitions of “genocide”. As I pointed out, it’s the official position of the UK govt that it wasn’t a genocide per se, so it’s not just interested parties such as Turkey. Note that the law presumably precludes one from saying that it’s more than genocide or that it’s other than genocide (but equally bad). In other words, it doesn’t merely forbid apologia. That’s a really bad law even if restricted to these instances, but esp. bad when it is open ended.

    I don’t think forbidding apologia or denial of facts is good either. I think it’s important to be able to express things that the government wrongly or rightly thinks is abhorrent, esp. in the absence of any connection to an actual (rather than hypothetical) harm. I think this is one of the genius moves of Mackinnon and Dworkin when they made their strategy civil rather than criminal and focused on recovery of damages or cessation of harm. (Of course, in practice in ran into problems in Canada, but the idea is very very clever.)

    If it may harm someone to a level that requires intervention, idenify the harming and forbid that. (If you can.)

    2) It’s not quite a motivational argument, but the law exists in a context of other laws that are targeting France’s Muslim population. This is bad for several obvious reasons including the likelihood of generating a backlash in the Turkish population against recognition of the massacre as a genocide. And shouldn’t that be the goal?

    This is a straightforward Fryean birdcage analysis: Some similar law might be ok in another context, but it seems to be part of a distinct oppressive structure now.

    3) The punishment is in no way proportionate or related to similar relevant act, at least, afaict:

    It imposes a 45,000 euro fine and a year in prison for those who break the law.

    I cannot imagine how it’s remotely just that saying “It was an awful awful massacre and injustice but doesn’t have quite all the elements of genocide thus isn’t genocide. Note: there are things which are at least as bad as genocide.” risks a 45,000 euro fine and a year in prison. I cannot imagine how saying, “There was no Armenian genocide, in fact there weren’t any killings!” is so bad as to be appropriately so punished.

    It’s especially bizarre as, afaict, it’d be fine, under this law, to say, “Yes, it was a genocide and a good thing!” Presumably the harm possibilities of this statement are the same or worse than of the others.

    So, I think the actual content of this law (as I can determine) is really really bad even before we get to general freedom of expression issues. (Though these shade into freedom of expression, the first one is specifically about this event at this time and leaves open that some such law might be in general justifiable. The last points as to why one might be leery of restrictions on such expression given the difficult of drawing non-absurd lines. Of course, a harm based approach might work…dunno.)

    Thanks! An important thing to wrestle with.

  8. Oh! And, re: symbolic value, I think that a law or resolution expressing official condemnation is perfectly fine. It’s the forbidding/punishment bid that messes it up. There may be geopolitical/strategic/reconciliation reasons for not having such condemnary laws/resolutions, but I don’t think they are intrinsically off base. (Indeed, there can be geopolitical/strategic/reconciliation reasons for having such laws, even if the grounds are dubious, which I don’t think is the case here.)

  9. I believe there is an opportunity here! We should all get out there with our niquab’s and Mr. Rachid Nekkaz will subsidise our local goverments by paying the fines! I believe it’s Win-Win, unless he refuses to pay for non muslims… and then we get him in court for discrimination!

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