Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff at PostGlobal

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Germany

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a Senior Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic public policy and grant-making foundation. He overseas the fund's policy programs. He was previously the Washington bureau chief of the German newsweekly, Die Zeit. Close.

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Germany

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a Senior Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic public policy and grant-making foundation. more »

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July 2008 Archives



July 18, 2008 11:55 AM

Democracy and a Piece of Clothing

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.

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