Monday, February 8, 2016

Right wing attack on French ideals

The French government — understandably jittery following the Paris attacks last month but which also has a long and troubled history with its immigrant population — had been considering revoking the citizenship of its native-born citizens convicted of terrorism offenses.
President Francois Hollande’s initial reaction to the Paris killings was to change France’s constitution to allow the government to strip the citizenship of convicted terrorists.
According to French law, only citizens who have been naturalized or possess dual nationality can be stripped of their citizenship. And France has applied that law in the past to a number of naturalized French citizens suspected of terrorism. 
But to change the law to include native-born French citizens would require a two-thirds majority vote in the Parliament. Following the extremist right-wing National Front Party’s recent defeat in local elections, the shift in the national mood made it unlikely that conservatives could muster enough votes. And if indeed the law were to pass it would, as one former French minister put it, serve as “an ideological gift to the National Front.” 
It also would further isolate Muslims because the primary target to root out terrorism would be the Muslim community. As is the custom of law enforcement, roundups of Muslims, particularly family members of suspected militants, is a routine thing. The community would live in fear that they could be subject to revocation of their citizenship.
Such a change in the constitution would only solidify the second-class status many French Muslim citizens suffered. For example, about 3 percent of France’s population is Algerian. Algerians have been migrating to France since the 1920s when a manual labor force was needed. French citizenship was not granted until 1947, and even then they were relegated to a sub-category as “French-Algerian Muslims.” Today the stigma remains and has extended to a great many low- and middle-income second-generation French Muslim citizens.
If the revocation of citizenship were equally applied to all terrorists convicted of offenses, including Europe’s neo-Nazis and the American violent extremists targeting black churches, mosques and Planned Parenthood offices in the United States, then the isolation of some communities would be mitigated.
For now France has resisted the temptation to change its constitution because certain elements may have been too inconvenient in a time of crisis. No constitution should be ironclad and every democratic country should have provisions to make amendments to reflect the times we live in but at the same time adhere to the spirit and ideals articulated by its founders.
But stripping natives of their passports is an extreme move that destroys the values that every democratic country considers sacred. After all, they are fighting Daesh and other threats to their sovereignty and security to protect those values. To change the core values of a democratic institution as an easy solution to what is pretty much a temporary crisis — at least in an historical context — defeats the purpose of protecting values in the first place.
The United States has also resisted calls to revoke natural-born Americans of their citizens, although there have been attempts. Proposed legislation on the issue have failed in Congress, but now with both the House and the Senate controlled by the Republican Party it’s likely another attempt will be made.
The United States is not in the habit of fooling around with something as sacred as its citizenship laws, although there is precedent in taking away citizenship from native-born individuals. 
Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American born to Saudi parents in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but who was raised in Saudi Arabia, was captured as an “enemy combatant” in Afghanistan in 2001. A condition of his release in 2004 to Saudi Arabia was that he renounced his US citizenship. Granted, it wasn’t much of a choice for him to give up his American citizenship, but it was a choice nonetheless.
No one can argue that the United States has the most liberal, if not generous, citizenship laws in the world. Any person, regardless of circumstances, who is born on American soil is a US citizen, although there have been calls for legislation to deny citizenship to US-born children of foreign parents. The naturalization process is fairly streamlined and straightforward. For many, this makes America the envy of its foreign neighbors.
For all the rhetoric of “making America great again” or for France to bask in the glow of being a “true Republic” these great countries should not bow to the pressure from right-wing extremists to abandon their constitutional guarantees that make them great in the first place.

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