The Current Discussion: France has rejected a citizenship application from a burqa-wearing Moroccan woman on the grounds that she has "insufficiently assimilated" to French culture. Should cultural assimilation be a requirement for citizenship?
If France denied a Muslim immigrant from Morocco the French citizenship because she wears the burqa, then we are confronted with an outrage. France’s Conseil d’Etat, the highest Administrative Court to uphold the decision of the city government of Paris this week, would have violated the very Western values it intends to protect. But is that really what we're dealing with here? Not so fast – it's more complicated than that.
The modern Western nation-state is a community of political values. Citizenship is not based on cultural values, not on blood and not on ethnicity. Freedom and democracy and constitutionalism are at the core of this community. German philosopher Dolf Sternberger has coined the term “constitutional patriotism” for a citizen’s necessary identification with the basic political principles and procedures of the democratic state. According to Sternberger this identification does not necessarily have to be “affectionate.” It is part of the freedom of every citizen to abstain from exercising his or her political rights. Citizenship may be created by birth as well as free will. This type of republicanism includes the right to emigrate as well as to immigrate. The state may reject an immigrant’s petition to become a citizen if and when an applicant rejects the basic constitutional principles. Usually there are few cultural conditions to become a citizen, the proficiency in the local language being one of them.