French-Algerian businessman Rachid Nekkaz aims to make a weighty contribution to the debate about Denmark's upcoming ban on the burqa and the niqab by pledging to pay all the fines, thus possibly annulling its efficacy, Danish Radio reported.
By his own admission, money is not a problem, even though the Danish government aims to hit future offenders where it hurts most, the wallet.
"In Switzerland, fines can amount to €9,200 euros ($11,320) and I always pay. It's no problem for me," Rachid Nekkaz told Danish Radio.
Nekkaz's campaign doesn't start in Denmark. Previously, the 46-year-old millionaire has paid "burqa fines" for Muslim women in numerous European countries, including France, Belgium and Switzerland. By his own admission, he has paid 1,538 fines so far.
Despite having earned the nickname of "Zorro of the niqab" for his tireless campaigning, Nekkaz himself is against face-covering Muslim headgear. Nekkaz has repeatedly stressed that women who cover their face cannot be properly integrated into society.
"As a human rights activist from Algeria, I have the right to help the woman of the world who volunteer to wear the niqab," Nekkaz said, as quoted by Danish Radio, arguing that it was a question of freedom and respect for civil rights. "Of course, the Danish government is free to introduce a burqa ban. But then international opinion is free to judge it," he added.
While Nekkaz enjoys the reputation of a "burqa defender" in Europe, he is known for doing exactly the opposite in other parts of the world.
"I'm coming straight from Iran now, where I help women who do not want to wear the Muslim headscarf," Nekkaz told Danish Radio.
To clarify his standpoint, Nekkaz described himself as a "secular Muslim" and a "Muslim version of Voltaire." in an interview with the Christian newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad.
Nekkaz's plans irked the Danish political circles that appear resolute about banning the burqa. Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen ventured that it was "utterly un-Danish" to pay other people's fines. Liberal Party integration spokesman Marcus Knuth argued that Nekkaz was trying to dismantle Danish legislation.
"The way he interferes is a mockery of Danish folk rule," Knuth told the Danish channel TV2.
The Conservatives' legal spokesman Naser Khader ventured that the Danish authorities may be forced to change the penalty from fines to imprisonment to offset "foreign meddling."
Nekkaz, by contrast, argued that both fines and imprisonment were "pure symbolism" that didn't help addressing the "real problems" of radicalization and oppression. Furthermore, if Denmark were to impose a prison sentence for wearing religious clothes it wouldn't be any different from the Muslim countries that imprison women for failure to do so, he argued.
The bill, currently still in the making, deals with all face-covering garments, but the Danish government has made it clear that its main purpose is to deter people from wearing the burqa and the niqab in the first place. The proposed fine for a single violation is DKK 1,000 ($165). In a proposed crackdown on persistent violators, however, the fine may be upped tenfold.
In addition to the parliamentary support, the ban is welcomed by a majority of Danes (62 percent).
Rachid Nekkaz was born in France to Algerian parents and has earned his fortune in the real estate market. He previously ran as an independent candidate in the French presidential election and even gave up his French citizenship to make a presidential bid in Algeria, albeit without success.