This week the French National Assembly voted to back Hollande’s proposal to strip convicted binational terrorists of their French nationality. The debate has become so divisive that two weeks ago, French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira resigned after publicly disagreeing with the President and it continues to dominate the French headlines as it looks ever likely to be successfully passed.
Taubira argued that it was in essence a symbolic gesture which would do little to dissuade terrorists intent on carrying out attacks against innocent victims. Hollande himself argued fervently against stripping binational criminals their French nationality in 2010, but the tides have changed since he became President. He has landed the unenviable position of needing to win the trust of a country where Marine Le Pen’s far right party, the Front National, scared the mainstream parties after winning the opening round of regional elections just weeks after the Paris attacks on November 13th.
For Marine Le Pen, this new proposal is not enough and if it were up to her it wouldn’t just be convicted terrorists who would be stripped of their French nationality. During the 2014 World Cup Le Pen cited the street celebrations in France following Algeria’s advance from the group stages as an example of how “immigration policies have failed”; she called for an end to dual nationality saying “they must choose: they are Algerian or French, Moroccan or French, they can’t be both”.
The reason France can only make this threat against dual nationals is because it would be illegal to leave an individual stateless and Hollande seems to be making the assumption that the other nations will lay claim to these convicted terrorists.
Obviously, it seems unlikely that this proposal would ever work in practice. Algerian politician Rachid Nekkas has argued that Algeria should strip jihadists born in France of their Algerian nationality. If Algeria did decide to do that, France wouldn’t be able to strip them of their French nationality too. Nekkas added: “France should assume responsibility for all her children, whether they’re called Zidane, Benzema, Merah or Kouachi…France should keep her champions and her terrorists”.
Both Merah, who carried out the Toulouse attacks in 2012 and Cherif Kouachi who was one of the brothers responsible for the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015, were born in France, went through the French education system and, perhaps most importantly, are said to have been radicalised whilst serving time for petty crime, in French prisons. They were undeniably products of the French system, spoke better French than Arabic but somewhere along the way were lost to the evil message of fundamentalism. Whether they themselves or the state like it or not, they remain French.
France needs recognise that it is a multicultural nation with a history that cannot be whitewashed. Its colonial history with Africa is essentially what led to there being so many binational French citizens who speak multiple languages, diversify and strengthen the French workforce and bring a multifaceted perspective of the world to the table.
Instead of alienating those citizens, and pandering to the knee jerk reactions brought on by racism and fear that parties like the National Front trade on, Hollande should be trying to address the origins of fundamentalism in France. For too long time has been wasted focusing on security and penalties rather than prevention. More comprehensive information and statistics are needed to address the social issues facing minorities in France. There needs to be a greater understanding of the role that the prison system has playing in the radicalisation of young offenders, and France needs to be wary of the very dangerous lines being drawn up to divide different groups of people and create a culture of distrust. Unity is the only way forward and the first step will be accepting that terrorism in France conducted by French-born citizens is a French problem, and one that France is going to have to deal with.
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Iman is a British Algerian freelance journalist based in London. She presents and produces content for digital media channels and has a special interest in marginalized voices, minority issues, culture and immigration. She can be found at @imaniamrani