Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Americans are Caught Between Two Fundamentalisms

You maybe wondering what I mean, but think about it for a minute: on the home front we have the Tea Party which wants to turn back the clock to the eighteenth century, when the Constitution was written, and barring that, to the nineteenth, when the 14th Amendment declared that anyone born in the United States was automatically a citizen, with all the protections of the law.

Overseas, we have, loosely speaking, the Taliban, or Al Qaeda, or any number of other fundamentalist Islamic groups who don’t care about citizenship, since they dream of a universal umma , or community. But, like Americans on the extreme right, they want women to stay at home, and they’re fiercely against homosexuals.

Both fundamentalisms believe the commandments of God take precedence over the laws of men, many going so far as wanting the U.S. to be officially declared a Christian nation (which was not in the minds of the founders!).
I sometimes wonder how fundamentalist Christian-American soldiers rationalize killing fundamentalist Muslims who proclaim so many of the same principles? Has anyone looked into that aspect of the psychological toll on our troops? The answer is probably that American soldiers are unaware of the opinions about God, politics and women that they share with the enemy.

Moving on to the 14th Amendment, few Americans know that in the West, there are basically two conceptions of citizenship, based on the Napoleonic Code (I don’t know what goes on in the Orient). According to the most widespread usage, jus soli, (soli meaning the land) a person is automatically a citizen of the country he or she is born in. But there is another possibility, called jus sanguinis, (sanguinis meaning blood) in which either the father, the mother, or both must be a national of the country in which a child is born for the child to be considered a citizen.

Until the year 2000, unlike the rest of Europe, (but like Switzerland), children born in Germany to foreign parents were not entitled to German citizenship. It was only when pressure from Turkish guest workers reached a tipping point, that the ancient law was changed. Children born of immigrant parents are now Germans at birth, but must choose by the age of 23 whether to retain their German citizenship, or be citizens of their parents’ country of origin.

In Germany, there is also a law of return: Germans who had been expelled from Germany during the wars can claim German citizenship if they speak the language. But now, the right-wing government of Hungary, a country that has historically had close ties to Germany, has been inspired by the German law of return, to extend the right of Hungarian citizenship to all ethnic Magyars living beyond the country’s 1918 borders. This includes Romanians, Slovaks, Serbs and Ukrainians, two million people in all.

Although the Hungarian move is in response to events that took place almost a hundred years ago, now, nationalistic legislation is not likely to amount to much in the context of the European Union. But the fact that during what should be a lazy month of August, august American lawmakers fill the airwaves with calls for a repeal of the 14th amendment, that would deny citizenship to children of mainly Mexican immigrants born in the U.S., will, I wager, have long legs, leading ultimately to the creation, as I’ve already suggested, of USCANMEX.

Our political class has chosen to fight yesterday’s battle, instead of those of today and tomorrow: meeting the consequences of climate change that defy governments and their poor human means everywhere, from China, to Pakistan, to Moscow, to the American Gulf Coast.

Fundamentalists both Christian and Muslim may be right after all, to consider that man’s laws cannot compete with those of God/Nature.

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