When Rachid Nekkaz steps up to the treasury clerk to pay a fine in Evry, just south of Paris, it's like he's visiting an old friend. They joke and exchange pleasantries, and Nekkaz mentions that the decor in the drab waiting room has changed. He's a regular visitor, and this is not the first time he has paid France's 150-euro ($170) ticket for a woman who has been fined for covering her face with an Islamic veil in public. It's the 1,089th.
Nekkaz began paying the fine five years ago, when France's ban on face coverings went into effect on April 11, 2011. Since then, he has spent 235,000 euros in penalties and legal fees for women in France and Belgium, where a similar law went into effect months later and where he says he has paid the penalty 259 times.
Under President Nicolas Sarkozy, France was the first European country to adopt a law prohibiting the complete covering of one's face in public. The ban applies to scarves, masks and motorcycle helmets, but it particularly affects Muslim women who wear the Islamic veil, or niqab. The law is commonly called the burqa ban, referring to a full-body garment more common in Afghanistan and South Asia and rare in France.