Now here's a novel way to protest France's proposed burqa ban: Volunteer to cover the €150 (nearly $200) fine for all women caught wearing the enveloping fabric in public. It's a delightfully mischievous idea -- if you believe, like I do, that a ban is unconstitutional. Only, who has the money for that, right?
A French real estate tycoon, that's who. Rachid Nekkaz has pledged €1 million to that very cause. He's already set aside €200,000 of his own money and received €36,000 in outside donations. "I am very, very sensitive to when people start playing around with institutions and the constitution," he said. "[W]hen I saw the president -- the guarantor of the constitution -- announcing a ban in the street I said to myself, 'this is serious.'"
There are only an estimated 1,900 women in France who wear the burqa. By my calculation, that would mean fully-veiled women could be fined three times without having to pony up their own money -- assuming he really does come up with the full €1 million. (And, of course, that is also assuming that the ban passes the Senate in September, as is expected.) However, there's little Nekkaz can do about the other potential punishment for wearing a burqa in public: a required citizenship course.
Still, there's no doubt he is dramatically softening the blow of the government's attack on veiling. It must be rather embarrassing to French lawmakers: After all that self-righteous bluster, some insolent rich guy has effectively neutered them (or taken the wind out of their ... burqas). Here's hoping he doesn't push them to step-up their campaign.