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France moves to disown citizens, undermines state

Credit: Jarel Grant/ Credit: Jarel Grant/

After the devastating November terrorist attacks carried out in locations around Paris, French president François Hollande had all eyes on him to respond creatively and effectively. He initially impressed the world with his compassion, choosing to allow 30,000 Syrian refugees into France. But at the dawn of the new year, Hollande announced a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow France to strip the citizenship of anyone convicted of terrorist acts, provided that they have additional citizenship elsewhere.

There has been resistance to the amendment from all sides, with some saying it does not go far enough and should include even those who only have French citizenship, and others saying the amendment is an infringement on civil liberties and is, in its current form, racist. Of interest to The Tartan, however, are the philosophical questions raised here; does this devalue the concept of the nation? If a country can choose to disown its citizens, it may not be fulfilling its end of the “social contract.”

French Enlightenment philosopher Rousseau believed that a nation and its citizens engage in a contract, in which the individual gives himself and his rights over to the the community in exchange for shared equality, protection, and mutual aid. In keeping with this, France has always embraced a broad social safety net. Each citizen works toward the common good of the whole, and the nation is strengthened by this community mentality. In return, everyone reaps various social benefits such as education, health care, and a vast availability of subsidies. An example of this is the subsidy that parents receive per child. In return, parents are expected to teach these children French morals and values, to help other government structures such as public schools to actively perpetuate French culture.

This creates two complications. The first is that, within this context, terrorism becomes a much more severe offense against the nation. Someone who has reaped the benefits of the state has not fulfilled his or her end of the bargain. If we were speaking in terms of an actual legal contract, this would be grounds for termination. From a purely philosophical perspective, this seems just.

Except this is not an actual legal contract. It’s a philosophy that the government spoon feeds to its youth that, in reality, does have benefits. Yet, it is unrealistic to expect that everyone in a nation the size of Texas should believe in a single unified belief about the role of the nation. Then this clash of philosophy and reality gets even more convoluted in that the proposed amendment openly targets the French Arab immigrant population. These are the people that are most likely to have dual citizenship, and Hollande is implying that France’s Arab immigrants are the primary suspects of terror.

For decades France has disenfranchised this entire sector of its population. Relations only began with France conquering their nations, brutalizing and exploiting their people, and then fighting them in deadly wars of independence. But current first and second generation French-born Arabs have faced considerable discrimination. In 2012, France enacted the public burqa ban, which makes law the assumption that either a woman wearing one is a public safety risk or is being oppressed by a male. This law that both aims to come to these women’s aid and protect France’s secular values just ended up disregarding the culture and history behind veiling.

A large fraction of this population has also been relegated to France’s “banlieues,” which literally translates to suburbs, but is not the American idea of suburbs. These are essentially France’s version of the projects, unkempt apartment buildings that the government rents to low-income immigrant families. They’re notable for their terrible public education because very few teachers are capable of effectively delivering the rigid national curriculum to a class that the Ministry of Education does not consider when it makes these plans. The banlieues are also known for their crime and riots against police.

The argument that dual-citizen, which in reality mostly means Arab, terrorists are not deserving citizenship because they violated the social contract begins to fall apart when you consider these conditions. Most first- and second-generation French Arabs aren’t receiving the education, protection, and shared equality Rousseau and the French government promised.

This is a long and ongoing history. But what’s more telling is the profile of the French youth who have been radicalizing via the Internet and moving to Syria to join ISIS. There is definitely a large number of radicalizers that come from troubled banlieue families. But recently Arab youth outside of the banlieues, from loving middle class families, have been disappearing unexpectedly to join the Jihad. There’s a reason for this. France treats its Arab population like second-class citizens, and if this amendment is voted into the constitution, some will cease to be citizens at all. While an individual committing an act of terrorism deserves severe punishment, expelling such people from the citizenry ignores the larger issue at hand.

France had an opportunity after the Friday the 13th Paris attacks. The nation could have decided to view it as a wake-up call. After the necessary mourning period, they should have elected to follow the same path that they began when welcoming the refugees. It would have been a great chance to make the kind of progressive immigration reform that we expect from a socialist candidate like Hollande. Yet he swung the pendulum so far back to the right, adopting an all-too-American attitude of Islamophobia.

No one should be modeling their immigration decisions after America. We’ve already been clandestinely pushing the boundaries of what rights American terrorists have under the guise of the Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay. It is very American to respond to the threat of terror by stripping rights and showing an obvious fear and hatred for the enemy. Not only is this wrong for the French population, it’s also disappointing that this is the product of Hollande’s desire to protect his citizens and preserve their culture. He swung far away from Rousseau and straight into Trump territory.
France cannot continue to treat its population like a homogenous community anymore. So much has changed since 1762. A nation has different responsibilities to its citizens, and the concept of a 21st-century citizen is still yet to be determined. France owes it to its Arab population to propose meaningful cultural change, not institutionalized discrimination.