Are Germany’s new anti-terrorism proposals about politics more than security?


dual nationality 2Germany’s interior minister Thomas de Maiziere has said that dual-nationals will lose German citizenship if they fight for militant Islamist groups abroad. This would make for one immediate security benefit to Germany and mainland Europe: A dual-national who has made that physical and psychological journey (travelling overseas to fight for ISIS/Islamic State) will not be able to return to Germany/ Europe and pursue the extremist group’s violent agenda there.

This is good but not good enough.

And yet, the German proposals should be seen in context. They come ahead of regional elections next month, in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Berlin. The proposals are thought to be part of the 27-point Berlin declaration that will be discussed by centre-right interior ministers of Germany’s federal states with Mr de Maiziere on Thursday (August 18).

The measures to improve security include hiring an additional 15,000 police by 2020 and greater video surveillance at transport hubs and public places, according to Reuters. The ministers also wanted a ban on the burqa or full-body veil for women and the revocation of a law that allows for dual nationality.

Mr de Maiziere said ‘no’ to the last two. The burqa and dual nationality remain untouchable in Germany, at least for now, at least till next year’s federal elections. As Mr de Maiziere said of the demands for a burqa ban. It would be “problematic” and “you cannot ban everything that you reject”.

But here’s the thing.

The German proposal to strip jihadi dual-nationals of their German citizenship is really a pretty small security measure. Especially when ISIS has been urging Muslims in Europe to stay where they are and carry out individual attacks right there. Consider the way it’s worked in France. Only 13 naturalised people with terrorism convictions have been stripped of their French nationality since 1996. That’s a pretty pointless measure one might justifiably think.

And yet, that’s the best that most European governments seem able to come up with? Removing the citizenship of proven jihadis? The French haven’t even been able to do that for French-born dual-nationals. At the end of March, President Francois Hollande had to drop his plan to enshrine in the French constitution measures to strip nationality of those convicted of treason or terrorism even if they were born in France.

There is a decided tip-toeing around the whole issue of dual citizenship. Why?

For France, it was always clear. The nationality-stripping proposal went against the very principles of the republic, the overarching jus soli protection afforded to those born on French soil. It would’ve divided French-born citizens into two categories and dual nationals would’ve become second-class citizens.

But – and here’s the question – should dual-nationals (born in-country or out) have the same rights as those who have just the one allegiance? I ask this as a dual-national myself.

And I ask this in the spirit of mid-19th century American historian and diplomat George Bancroft’s jovial assertion. For a man to have two countries was as intolerable as for him to have two wives.

(Tomorrow: Dual nationality has been fashionable for a relatively short time. Now, its time may be over )