French proposal to strip citizenship over terrorism sets off alarms

The New York Times reports: The French police have carried out thousands of heavy-handed searches since the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, and a raft of new laws is poised to permanently concentrate even more power in the hands of the Interior Ministry.

Yet among civil libertarians, no government proposal has raised as much alarm as a recent one to strip citizenship from French-born dual nationals convicted of terrorism.

The idea, promoted by Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a Socialist with a conservative twitch, has struck at the core of France’s ideals of the rights of citizens, while underscoring the quandary the government faces as it confronts a widening threat from terrorists born and raised in France.

While the proposal to strip them of citizenship — known here as “déchéance,” or “forfeiture” — is backed by the right and much of the public, it has provoked furious debate and outraged the left, including many of Mr. Valls’s colleagues in the Socialist Party.

Mr. Valls has described the measure as “highly symbolic.” But critics fear that it would deepen fissures in French society by creating two classes of citizens.

Socialists are usually extremely reluctant to distinguish between French citizens, said Patrick Weil, the country’s leading historian on immigration. “The principle of equality is one of the pillars of French identity,” he said. “That he wants to distinguish between French citizens is creating a tsunami. It’s a terrible break with the fundamental principles of the French republic.”

At the same time, opponents of the plan point out that such a change in the law would hardly deter would-be terrorists. No one has been able to envision a situation in which a binational French suicide bomber might not press the button for fear of losing citizenship. [Continue reading…]

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