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Meet the wealthy businessman who's helping Muslim women by paying off 'burkini' fines

Posted August 30

With the so-called "burkini" sparking ever-growing controversy in Europe, French authorities have begun fining women for wearing the modest swimwear in public.

But not everyone is on board with the controversial burkini ban, with one wealthy businessman deciding to pay some of the fees that Muslim women have been hit with — an act that he said is intended to defend their rights.

"(The ban) goes against democracy and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in every way," Rachid Nekkaz told The Huffington Post. "It's deplorable."

Nekkaz — who also has a history of paying fines for women who are targeted for wearing full face veils in public places — has paid the burkini fines of five women already, seeing his efforts as helping to balance out the impact of the contentious French laws that have sparked spirited discussion of late.

The wealthy entrepreneur has apparently taken an active role in the debate, asking the mayors of each of the 26 towns where the burkini ban is in place to send him the fines directly so that he can pay them.

"I want to de-dramatize the situation. There’s no choice but to pay these fines," he said. "But these women are suffering and France’s spirit of vivre ensemble suffers too."

Vivre ensemble, according to The Huffington Post, is a concept in France that involves people living together in harmony.

Nekkaz told the outlet that he believes politicians are using Islam and the associated debates surrounding the religion to try to divide people ahead of the country's presidential elections set to unfold in eight months.

As Deseret News National reported, in addition to fines for donning burkinis, one woman was recently arrested by French authorities.

And a photo showing a woman being ticketed by police has gone viral in recent days. According to the Guardian and AFP, her ticket alleged that she was not wearing "an outfit respecting good morals and secularism."

The burkini bans come after France has been rocked by radical Islamic terror attacks in recent months. In addition to a November rampage that left 130 dead, a truck attack in July killed 86 people; just days later, a Catholic priest was murdered inside of his church.

Those events clearly had an impact on reactions to religious attire, with Relevant Magazine noting the words of the Cannes bylaw, which reads: "Beachwear that displays religious affiliation, when France and places of worship are currently the target of terrorist attacks, is liable to create risks of disrupting public order."

Others say that the ban itself could be more culturally rooted over worries that demographics are changing, with the current 7.5 percent share of Muslims in France slated to grow to 10 percent by 2030, as Deseret News reported.

One of the central issues with the burkini ban is that the clothing isn't legally defined, opening the door to the potential questioning of women who might wear long pants or other clothing that covers their bodies.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has called burkinis a "symbol" of the "enslavement of women," NBC News reported.

France also banned full face veils in public places back in 2010, with the fine for wearing a niqab or a burqa coming in at around $167, according to The Washington Post.

As it turns out, Nekkaz has also made it a habit over the years to pay fines for women who have been targeted over the veil ban as well, reportedly doling out $278,000 for a total of 1,165 fines in France, 268 in Belgium, two in the Netherlands and one in Switzerland, plus legal fees.

Some, however, have accused the businessman of engaging in these tactics to gain publicity, though he has pushed back against such claims.

Email: bhallowell@deseretnews.com Twitter: billyhallowell Facebook: facebook.com/billyhallowell

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