French Tycoon Defends Muslim Women Who Wear Niqab
By Elliot Millner on Jul 19th 2010
A French businessman has recently made news by pledging to financially defend the right of Muslim women in France to wear the niqab, a garment worn to cover the majority of the face. Upon hearing the news of approval of the veil ban in the lower house of the French parliament, which opened the door for it to be ratified into law in September, Rachid Nekkaz decided to do something to combat it.
A French citizen and Muslim of Algerian descent, Nekkaz declared that he would set aside a fund of $1 million euros to bail out and defend any Muslim woman charged under the new law. Nekkaz, who made his fortune in real estate, was not planning to take action; however, when the planned ban on the veil was extended from town halls and post offices to all public areas, he felt obligated to act. He calls the veil ban an unconstitutional violation of a woman’s personal freedoms.
For the record, this law serves no legitimate purpose and is a thinly « veiled » racist and xenophobic attack on the French Muslim population, fueled by anti-Muslim paranoia. The irony is that only a small percentage of French Muslim women — approximately 2,000 out of 5 million Muslims in France — wear the veil. Yet, to many on both sides of the fight, it is a powerful symbol of identity; so powerful that the French government felt the need to take the extreme measure of regulating an aspect of life considered extremely personal. The arguments used by those defending the veil ban (« taking back our way of life ») sound eerily similar to the rants of those who attend Tea Party functions (« taking back our country »). Given how liberal France generally is regarding what individuals are allowed to wear (or not wear), this ban is completely hypocritical.
Putting the absurdity of the law itself aside, Nekkaz must be applauded for his activism in defending what he sees as the right of Muslim women to dress in whatever way they choose — as other French citizens are allowed to do. Whether I agree or disagree with someone on an issue (in this case, I happen to agree), I respect those who are willing to put their money where their mouth is and not simply complain about something. Can you imagine the positive impact that could be made here in the United States by black people with the financial means (and public profile) to do things similar to what Nekkaz has done?
Although there are certain individuals who may be contributing financially to causes who we simply don’t hear about, the reality is that sometimes it isn’t just about the money being given; it is about the willingness to publicly take a stand for something — to be willing to actually sacrifice money, time and possibly public acceptance for a cause larger than yourself. The social capital of our most prominent African Americans is vast and has yet to be tapped for our most important causes.
The anti-Muslim backlash being experienced by Muslims in France shares many similarities to the anti-Obama, anti-black backlash here in the United States. Will any famous or wealthy black people step up in the same manner as Nekkaz,? Or will our African American elite simply focus on « getting theirs » while the masses continue to struggle? Blacks of means in America have something to learn from Nekkaz about how to influence politics through business.