One year after Charlie Hebdo, is France adequately addressing homegrown terror?
2015 was a devastating year for France.
On January 11, two terrorists attacked the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 17 people. “Je suis Charlie” was raised as a rallying cry all around the world, to show that freedom of expression could not be muzzled.
On November 13, 130 people were murdered while having a drink on Parisian terraces or attending a concert at the Bataclan.
That night, French society realized that the victims of terrorism are not limited to cartoonists who make jokes about religion. It was the whole spirit of French society that was targeted — youth, joy and liberty — forcing France to take a strong turn regarding counter-terrorism measures.
But now, one year after the Charlie Hebdo attack, France is considering a reform of “nationality loss.” Here, France is stepping onto a dangerous road.
What is the loss of French nationality?
In 1954, nationality loss entered the French Civil Code. It states that a naturalized citizen can lose his nationality if he commits actions contrary to French interests, within a period of 10 years after the fact.
In 2016, in front of the Congress, French President Francois Holland declared his will to implement the loss of nationality 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 in terrorism, he will lose his French nationality and be forced to go back to the country where he is still considered as a citizen.
An efficient measure to fight against terrorism?
The French define terrorism as encompassing an enemy who rebels against France and its values. The French believe that there is an inside and an outside. Those who are inside respect French values, while those outside are rejecting those values. By extending nationality loss, the French government seeks to expel those persons rejecting French values and reaffirm the fact that nationality emphasizes a national unity.
However, the problem is that terrorism needs to be understood as a product of society. It is our society that creates political violence through segregation and racism. This way of thinking about terrorism reflects how the French government also thinks about politics and liberty. It forbids criticism of the French political system, which in turn supports a nationalist ideology and weakens social cohesion.
The expansion of nationality loss represents a symbol more than a pragmatic measure to fight against terrorism. Indeed, losing their French nationality will not prevent radicalized citizens from committing terrorist attacks.
In fact, this symbolic response crushes every pragmatic measure needed to adequately fight against terrorism. In front of the Congress, Hollande did not even mention potential reforms around prisons or schools, which are key places to prevent radicalization.
Moreover, loss of nationality poses one inevitable challenge. Would suspected terrorists be welcomed back to their other countries? Every government should be reluctant to integrate potential threats to their nation. In the likely event that both countries should refuse to shelter their suspected citizens, where should they go, and by whom should they be protected?
Further splitting the population, instead of seeking integration, will create a whole new breeding ground for radicalization. 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.
Former examining magistrate of counterterrorism Marc Trevidic highlights that French terrorists must be considered as French criminals. Removing their nationality would not change anything. The government needs to understand that these criminals are products of French society, and by removing their nationality they are only denying the problem, and not addressing it.
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 loss of nationality for every French citizen reveals the failure of democracy
The consequences of nationality loss if extended to French-born citizens means that if a person who is born French is suspected of terrorist acts, he can lose his nationality and therefore become a stateless person, since he only has one nationality.
However, creating a stateless person is contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ Article 15, which states the following:
(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.
In this light, nationality loss must not lead to the creation of stateless persons. Hannah Arendt emphasized that all people, whatever the seriousness of the committed act, hold the right to nationality, which has since then become an absolute right.
Indeed, a stateless person allows the breach of fundamental human rights because he is not subject of law anymore. And removing one’s nationality would deny the fundamental human rights to health, education, and legal protection. Indeed, according to Arendt, a State’s only option to deal with people who have lost their legal status is to create security camps.
Therefore, who should take care of a stateless person? And who can protect them?
Is this France’s next step?
The debate over nationality loss will drive democracy down a bumpy road, weakening the cohesion of French society and encouraging violence and social division. When will France finally talk about pragmatic and adequate counter-terrorism measures? Apparently, not yet.