“Liberté Égalité Fraternité and Loss of Nationality?” Has France Lost Its Way?
8th February saw The National Assembly, French Parliament’s lower house, vote in favour of loss of nationality for all citizens suspected of terrorist activities. This in effect, would create a ‘stateless’ person. Why did the French decide to go that far?
2015 marked a terrible year for terrorism for both France and its citizens. The fundamental institution of the country was shaken and is now crumbling. It began with the massacre of 17 people on 7th and 8th January, including the murder of of well-known journalist and cartoonists from the controversial publication, Charlie Hebdo.
You probably need to be French to fully understand the true significance of these killings. The famous cartoonists, Charb, Wolinski and Cabu have been ever present in Hebdo’s humorous political publications. Most of French people have grown up with them and laughed along with them. Satire is a French tradition and laughing at the expense of the powerful whoever they are, has always been part of the DNA of the country. Therefore, millions of French were catapulted into shock when the massacre unfolded.
Many people still remember the exact place where they were when the breaking news announced an attack had happened in Paris in the office of a well-known satirical magazine. People knew straight away that Charlie Hebdo was the target. But the anger that most people felt after the first attack does not compare with the feelings of fear that the entire French society felt during and after the later massacres on the November 13th 2015.
130 lives were brutally ended in the terraces of cafés, in the concert hall of Le Bataclan and near the Stade de France. These 130 executions were random targeting. The dead had not committed any crimes; they were either Catholics, Muslims, Jewish or Atheists. Not all of them were even French. Some were eating with friends, some were at a concert. There was no pattern to who the killers chose to target.
However, this senseless carnage changed the entire face of the country. After the Paris attacks on November 13th, the French realised that the victims of terrorism are not limited to cartoonists who make jokes about religion. The realisation became evident that anyone could become a target for terrorism.
What the terrorists wanted to destroy was the whole spirit of French society. Never since the end of World War Two have civilians been targeted as in this manner. Youth, joy and liberty was directly amongst the victims: this forced the French government to take a strong turn regarding counter-terrorism measures.
To really grasp what has changed in France since the last terrorist attacks, it is essential to understand how the French define terrorism. Their definition of terrorism is “encompassing an
enemy who rebels against France and its values”. The French believe that there is an ‘inside’ world where all the French values are protected and an ‘outside’ world where France must fight to protect, keeping its inside world intact. Those who are inside respect all the French values, while those who live outside are rejecting those values. The difficulty is, the perpetrators who committed the horrific attacks in Paris in January and November 2015, were either French or Belgian. They were born and lived in France all their lives. In other words, it is the French’s society or “the inside world” that has nurtured those monsters.
In this light, 2015 was the year for French counter-terrorism reforms: strengthening the intelligence services’ means, extending the state of emergency with restrictions of personal freedom, house arrests for terrorist suspects that led to even ecologists being under house arrest and the French carrying out military actions in Syria.
But now, one year after the first terrorist attack, the government has decided upon a reform of nationality loss. Here, the Socialist Party-led government is stepping onto a dangerous road that goes completely against the democratic values of both country and party.
In 2015, in front of the Congress (both Chambers Senate and Parliament) the French President François Hollande declared his will to implement the loss of nationality for terrorists into the French constitution, as well as expand it to people with dual nationality. In the case of terrorism, if a dual citizen is involved, he will lose his French nationality and be forced to go back to the country where he is still considered as a citizen.
The obstacle here is that it is impossible to differentiate French citizens in this way. If the law was passed as the President intended it to, it would have created an official status of ‘second class French Citizen’ as only those with a dual nationality could have lost their French citizenship in a case of suspicion of terrorism. Therefore, the loss of French nationality was extended to all citizens.
The expansion of this nationality loss is symbolic of more than a pragmatic measure to the fight against terrorism. Indeed, losing their French nationality will not prevent radicalized French citizens from committing terrorist attacks. Also, it fails to address the real question on why French citizens are ready to kill and commit terrorist attacks against their own country.
Terrorism needs to be understood as a product of society. It is our society that creates political violence through segregation and racism. Terrorism is only the expression of far more complex underlying issues that are lying deep-rooted within the French society.
France does not differentiate between its citizens. Regardless of their origins or religions, all French are equals. However, racial discriminations against French Muslims in particular, are also part of the life of millions of French. Along with racism, the mass unemployment of young people, especially in the most deprived areas of the French cities, have fuelled anger among the youth propelling them to feel excluded from the French ‘inside’ world.
French society is fragmented into different pieces. The banlieue (a generic term that is used to categorise the poor suburbs around cities) accumulates all sort of problems and can’t find any solutions to them. The youth and especially the second or third generation of immigrants, is regarded as second-class citizens and live in poverty with no prospect of having a proper job.
The French have always depended on their State, their government and public services to provide them with opportunities and security. For years they have been used to free healthcare, free education and low rent council flats. It is part of the French expectation: all of them can rely on a good and strong welfare system. However, the last 30 years have seen a decline in the public services and privatisation has severed the link between the population and their State.
The suburbs were among the first victims of this liberalisation of the French society. And this has happened in the period of which fewer jobs were available. The feeling of being a second-class citizen was reinforced with the racism where young French Muslims are the victims. Without a State that protects and cherishes its children, extremism to crept up within society. If the ‘whites’ have the Front National, the Muslims have DAESH.
That’s how terrorism and extremism became a fixture of the French society. It is a French issue and can’t be resolved with more racism and discrimination.
The loss of nationality poses one inevitable challenge: it will further split the population. Instead of seeking integration, it will create a whole new breeding ground for radicalisation. Rejecting any group of people will only deepen their rejection of French values, as well as psychologically weaken them and make them easy targets for terrorist recruitment. It also helps the far right to spread their own propaganda and therefore radicalise their own activists. It gives both Daesh and Frontiste (member of the Front National) more credibility.
Daesh will argue that France don’t want Muslims to live there and the Frontiste will feel that ‘they can have their country back’ by stripping French-born Muslims of their nationality.
It should be remembered that the French Constitution highlights the importance of rights. The State does not deny its criminals: it punishes them. The French Civil Code already addresses this issue with the implementation of civic rights’ loss, such as the right to vote, or to be elected.
Instead of using such measures and expanding them to terrorism, the French government has decided to open the debate around a future loss of nationality.
The consequences of nationality loss means that if a person who is born French and is suspected of terrorist acts, that person can lose his nationality and therefore becomes a ‘stateless’ person, since they only has one nationality. However, creating ‘stateless’ people is contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which clearly stipulates that everyone has a right to a nationality. Therefore, the legality of such a severe move is highly questionable, given that having a nationality is an absolute right.
In other words, the French Government has agreed to breach one the most basic human rights: the right to have an identity. Removing one’s nationality would deny the fundamental human rights to health, education, and legal protection which goes completely against the values of French society, where all citizens are part of the French ‘inside’ world.
It also raises the question of what to do with a ‘stateless’ person and what implications this will have on French democracy.
France has lost its way. It isn’t the country that once wrote the Declaration of the Human Rights.