Last week, France’s Minister of Justice, Christine Taubira (known for introducing the 2013 same-sex marriage law in France) resigned from the government, contesting French President François Hollande’s new ‘terrorist law.”
Shortly after the Paris attacks, French President François Hollande, along with the Prime Minister Manuel Valls, pledged to conduct legal reforms that would allow taking away the citizenship from convicted terrorists with dual nationality. Hollande’s proposal to ‘loosen’ the laws on revoking citizenship is to be reviewed by the National Assembly this coming Wednesday and is part of a package of security measures the government proposed after the November attacks.
The proposed law (known as the “loss of nationality”) has been criticized mainly on the grounds that it would create a two-tier state in which citizenship is precarious for some, a privilege that can be taken away.
Taubira highlighted the dangers associated with creating categories of sub-citizens within the French Republic and resigned from her role in the Government in protest. On her Twitter account she announced, “Sometimes you remain in place to resist. Sometimes resisting means you go.” (She’s also been posting quotations by Aimé Césaire.)
Hollande’s “loss of nationality” policy is only the latest episode in France’s identity crisis. Citizenship- or it’s revocation- has been a tool used by the French state to delineate the boundaries of it’s national identity. Marine Le-Pen of the French extreme right-wing party the National Front also advocated for similar policies over the years, asking to strip dual citizens of French nationality. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy also expressed his support for such policies in his 2010 speech in Grenoble, during the 2010 riots in the French banlieues, threatening to revoke the citizenship of rioters. Sarkozy stated that ‘immigrants’ who put the lives of police officers in danger should not longer enjoy the privileges that come with being a French citizen. While his announcements never turned into laws, on the grounds that they were unconstitutional, Hollande seeks to enshrine conditions for ‘loss of nationality’ into the Constitution itself.
It is estimated that there are currently 3.3 million French citizens who are dual-nationals, many of which are citizens of North African countries and other former French colonies. Behind the security discourse that dominates the new proposal lies the message that citizenship is now conditional, and that certain identity markers (such as being recent immigrants, or second generation immigrants) might prevent you not only from enjoying certain rights, but from bearing the duties and responsibilities that come with being a citizen. Hannah Arendt famously argued that citizenship is “the right to have rights”, a legal-political framework which allows the person to access his rights and duties and to belong to a community. Denationalization, Arendt argues, prevents the individuals from belonging to a framework “where one is judged by one’s actions and opinions.”
The new ‘loss of nationality” policy, while presented as a security measure, should be viewed as part of France’s struggle to address a long history of failed integration policies. If citizenship is meant to protect from attempts to impose divisions on social groups, taking it away removes the obligation to treat individuals as equals before the law, or as Arendt argues, as part of the community. By revoking the citizenship of convicted terrorists, France also removes its responsibility of addressing urgent social issues within its borders. There will no longer be a need to ask what causes individuals – French nationals – to engage in terrorist acts because they will simply no longer be part, at least legally, of French society.