The Return of French Exceptionalism: France Bans the Burqa, Deports the Roma
The conventional wisdom among many international law folks is that the U.S. has (wrongly) embraced American exceptionalism in world affairs, often to the detriment of compliance with international law. I don’t disagree that American exceptionalism exists, but I think the main problem with the “exceptionalism” meme is the idea that the U.S. is unique in its “exceptionalist” philosophy. Other countries can, when push comes to shove, be just as “exceptionalist” as the United States. France’s recent outburst of exceptionalism is a nice case in point.
Today, France’s legislature voted overwhelmingly to ban the wearing of the burqa in public, despite the fact that the ban could in fact violate various international human rights treaties. Separately, France has been aggressively deporting Roma (albeit with a plane ticket and cash voucher), despite the fact that this too could violate various international treaty obligations.
I actually don’t think the legal challenges to these two actions are really all that strong, but what is interesting to me is that France’s government is fighting back to international criticism by invoking France’s exceptional role in the development of human rights. As France’s European Affairs minister said yesterday in response to a serious tongue-lashing from a EU commissioner,
“The tone she took … is not the manner one uses to address a great state like France, which is the mother of human rights,” he told French radio. “We are not the naughty pupil of the class whom the teacher tells off and we are not the criminal before the prosecutor.”
This sort of exceptionalist reaction to international criticism should sound familiar to Americans, although they may disagree about who is the true “mother of human rights”!