The ban on the burqa, niqab, headscarf… The debate on Islam in France has been always marked by its focus on Muslim women, their choice of clothing in particular and their place in the Republic.
The recent surge in ‘burkini bans’ on many French beaches is no exception. Using the security situation as a pretext, politicians are cracking down on the entire Muslim community with a main target: Muslim women.
Muslim women often find themselves the subject of controversy, negative remarks and attacks – many Islamophobic and racist.
For Rachid Nekkaz, an Algerian businessman and political activist who previously renounced his French nationality, Muslim women are among the most “easy” targets, notably for French politicians, in a particularly difficult socio-economic context.
“When it comes to Muslim women, politicians hit out at them without facing any problems. They know it is very easy to hit out at Muslim women, especially for electoral reasons, because it does not cost much and it is easier than tackling economic and social problems,” he tells Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.
The businessman denounced the arguments used by politicians when comparing the controversy on banning the burqa in 2010 to the current one on the ‘burkini’ – a concealing piece of swimwear worn by some Muslim women.
“They told us for years that it [the burqa ban] was meant to promote revealing of the face, using the motto ‘The republic lives openly.’
“However, now with the burkini, the face is already uncovered.”
Nekkaz slammed several politicians, in particular Prime Minister Manuel Valls for his statement that the burkini was incompatible with the values of the Republic.
“These politicians invoke the values of the Republic, but the values of the Republic are: freedom, equality and fraternity… It is they who do not respect these values,” Nekkaz said.
Universal human rights
Nekkaz found international notoriety with his initiative to pay the fines of women wearing burqas after the garment was banned in many European countries, including France, in 2010.
He said he is willing, once again, as an “activist for human rights”, to pay fines for women sanctioned for wearing the burkini, now banned in about 26 towns across France.
“I will not accept that a great country like France use the fear of Islam to violate personal freedoms in the public space. I will not accept that political parties use this fear of Islam to demonize, stigmatize Muslim women who live peacefully.
“I will sponsor all fines concerning public spaces, which are in all democracies a universal heritage of freedom.”
“We must let women dress as they want,” added Nekkaz, recalling that he started this initiative not “for religious reasons” but for the “principles of human rights”.
He said he contacted all the mayors who have issued decrees prohibiting the swimsuit, telling them he would pay the fines.
“I suggested they send me a copy of the fines, but they all refused. I contacted the municipal and national police; I even offered to pay them in advance,” said Nekkaz.
Nekkaz said he is alarmed about the evolution of public debate in France about Islam and the place of Muslims in the country.
Islam and the headscarf will probably be the “highlights and center themes” of the upcoming presidential campaign, believes the businessman, who called on the Muslim community to organize.
“I think the dream of the French political class is to ban Islam in the Constitution and from that point, they will be entitled to prohibit the presence of Muslims in France,” Nekkaz said.
He continued: “We must put an end to these anti-Muslim acts; that’s is why we must mobilize. If we do not mobilize, what will happen to Muslims is what happened to the Jews in the 1940s. In history things repeat; we have to be prepared.”
France’s top court, the Council of State, is set to rule Friday on the lawfulness of the controversial ban.
Rights groups and politicians say the ban on the swimsuit worn by some Muslim women is discriminatory and a violation of fundamental rights.