Burka ban in France

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Correspondent Sarah Elzas reports from Paris on the controversial legislation to ban the burka in France. The measure has provoked a lot of criticisms, and not just from practicing Muslims. A French real estate developer and his wife are taking matters into their own hands.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. France's senate votes next week on whether to ban the burka. That's the full-face covering worn by some Muslim women. The French parliament has already approved the legislation, which would impose a fine on anyone wearing a burka in public. The measure has provoked a lot of criticism, and not just from practicing Muslims. A French real estate developer and his wife are taking matters into their own hands. Sarah Elzas reports from Paris.

SARAH ELZAS: Rachid Nekkaz and Cecile Le Roux have been closely following the burka debate. Neither likes the idea of women covering their faces in public, but sitting in a Paris cafe, Le Roux says that she thinks women should be allowed to wear what they want on the street.

CECILE LE ROUX: I'm Christian. I'm of course married to Rachid. He's a Muslim. We don't believe in the burka. However, what I do believe is that personal freedom is sacred in a democratic western country.

ELZAS: The couple wanted to find a public way to take a stance. Nekkaz says they decided to focus on the fine that women in burkas would have to pay, 150 Euros, about $190.


RACHID NEKKAZ: I saw that the weakness of the legislation was the 150 Euro fine. I asked myself and my wife, can we pay it? The answer was yes, we can pay it.

ELZAS: Nekkaz and Le Roux say they've already put up $300,000 of their own money in a fund to pay the fine. They say donations are coming in as well. The idea is even if the measure passes, no one would actually have to pay out of their own pocket.

LE ROUX: This fund exists so that all of the women who want to wear a burka in public feel confident that not only they can make their first violation, but they can make repeated violations and we'll be fined to cover them. We will try to sort of embarrass the authorities as much as possible by showing them that it's sort of a useless law because there's an organization in place to neutralize it by paying the fines.

ELZAS: Le Roux and Nekkaz aren't strangers to publicity. He ran unsuccessfully for president in the last election. She was his spokesperson. But direct public activism like this fund is relatively uncommon in France. Le Roux says some might dismiss it as a publicity stunt and she says it is to some extant.

LE ROUX: Okay, maybe people will criticize us for trying to grab attention. Well, yes, we are trying to grab attention because it's an issue that merits attention.

ELZAS: Eric Raoult is an MP who headed the parliamentary commission that recommended the burka ban in the first place. He says if Nekkaz really wants to help, he should forget about the fund.


ELZAS: Rather than raise money, I'd rather Nekkaz join us, he says, in an act of citizenship to explain to women who wear the full veil that they should take it off. For The World, I'm Sarah Elzas in Paris.