As a typical conservative, I'm rather fond of patriotism and generally dissent from the "blame Amerikkka" crowd. And while I subscribe to a strain of American exceptionalism, I find patriotism in those of other nations to be highly commendable. In particular, I think Europeans are often lacking in national pride - leading to the sort of cultural drift currently observed in many northern European countries.
On the other hand, the last time France took a stab at patriotic nationalism, they ended up with the Reign of Terror. So, while I commend the latest attempt by the French to introduce substantive prerequisites to French naturalization, I do so with slight hesitation. According to France 24:
Foreigners seeking French nationality face tougher requirements as of January 1, when new rules drawn up by Interior Minister Claude Guéant come into force.
Candidates will be tested on French culture and history, and will have to prove their French language skills are equivalent to those of a 15-year-old mother tongue speaker. They will also be required to sign a new charter establishing their rights and responsibilities.
"Becoming French is not a mere administrative step. It is a decision that requires a lot of thought", reads the charter, drafted by France's High Council for Integration (HCI).
Residing in Asia, I'm accustomed to rather strict naturalization laws. Viewing nationality as primarily a matter of blood, many Asian countries take a dim view of non-ethnic naturalization (excepting mixed-marriages) and simply forbid dual-citizenship. The thin-skinned may sense a pervasive racism in such sentiments, but there is an undeniable and obvious truth in the assertion that I, for example, am simply not Asian.
America, of course, occupies the opposite end of the spectrum and is rather exceptional with regard to citizenship. We alone in the world are truly a nation of immigrants and boast no purely ethnic component to citizenship. History has rarely witnessed such a national condition, and never upon so broad a scale. We are truly unique.
Immigration has never been my hot-button issue. Illegal immigration is certainly objectionable, but I can't passionately condemn something that I might very well attempt myself (for the safety and prosperity of my family) were I born into radically different circumstances. I see American citizenship as a privilege which should be available to those possessed of a certain American patriotism and willingness to adopt American culture (i.e., our language and basic civil and moral virtues). Immigration and citizenship are practical matters to me, best determined by balancing national interest with the circumstance of the applicant.
Yet America's immigration discussion generally encompasses Mexicans and the occasional Latin American. France is facing culture-altering waves of Muslim immigrants who have no will to adopt Western culture.
Guéant, a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling UMP party, described the [naturalization] process as "a solemn occasion between the host nation and the applicant", adding that migrants should be integrated through language and "an adherence to the principals, values and symbols of our democracy". He stressed the importance of the secular state and equality between women and men: rhetoric perceived largely as a snipe at Muslim applicants, who make up the majority of the 100,000 new French citizens admitted each year.
France's interior minister has made it clear that immigrants who refuse to "assimilate" into French society should be denied French citizenship.
Earlier this year, Guéant intervened personally to ensure an Algerian-born man living in France was denied French nationality because of his "degrading attitude" to his French wife.
That followed an earlier push by France's former Immigration Minister Eric Besson to revise existing laws in order to strip polygamists of their acquired citizenship.
France is correct in all of this. While Sarkozy is accused of "pandering to the right," he has a responsibility to uphold the basic laws and ethics of France. There is always a danger of such sentiments degrading into ethnic, religious or other forms of prejudice, but the alternate extreme of cultural abandonment is equally perilous. Nations must stand for something, and France is finally standing for something worthwhile.