One Businessman Is Fighting the Burkini Ban by Putting His Money Where His Mouth Is

A woman on a beach in her burkini. (Photo: TIM WIMBORNE / Reuters)
A woman on a beach in her burkini. (Photo: Tim Wimborne/Reuters)

In the wake of recent terror attacks in France, a few French towns have adopted a ban on the burkini, or the full-body swimming costume some Muslim women wear at the beach to keep covered. Most notably, the mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, banned the swimsuit earlier this month, saying “access to beaches and for swimming is banned to anyone who does not have [bathing apparel] which respects good customs and secularism.”

Lisnard argued that the burkini “ostentatiously displays religious affiliation” and “is liable to create risks of disrupting public order (crowds, scuffles, etc.) which it is necessary to prevent.” He explained that the ban isn’t meant to violate the liberties of Muslim people. “We are not talking about banning the wearing of religious symbols on the beach … but ostentatious clothing which refers to an allegiance to terrorist movements which are at war with us.”

None of this sits well with Rachid Nekkaz, who is fighting the ban by taking out his checkbook. The businessman, who is of Algerian descent, has so far paid the fines of three women who violated the ban and has also offered to help other people who are victims of this law.

Nekkaz has a history of standing up for women affected by these laws, which includes the bans on full-face veils. Nekkaz, who started a fund to help, has spent €245,000 (about $277,315) over the years footing the bill for these women, even though he personally is not a fan of burkinis or the niqab, a cloth that covers a woman’s face with an opening for the eyes. “I am like the philosopher Voltaire,” he said to the Telegraph. “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. It is a question of principle.”

He also argues that this kind of extreme legislation might provoke people to embrace the very kind of radical thinking and behaviors they’re hoping to curb. “This sort of politics, these types of decisions, which do not respect fundamental liberties, will create new clients for the Islamic State [ISIS],” he said.

What is most confusing about the ban, or at least Lisnard’s explanation of it, is the notion that wearing a burkini is an automatic reference to an “allegiance to terrorist movements.” That’s akin to saying wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat means you’re broadcasting support of the Ku Klux Klan, which we know isn’t necessarily true. Maybe Muslim women want to enjoy the beach in whatever attire they feel most comfortable in? Shouldn’t they be allowed to do so in a country that considers liberté, egalité, and fraternité as its national values?

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