A People's History of the European Court of Human Rights

By Michael D. Goldhaber | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Dumb Immigrants

If a society is judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable, then the treatment of criminals from a despised group is doubly instructive. What happens when a legal immigrant who is not a citizen commits a crime? In many countries, he or she faces deportation after serving time in prison. The French call this phenomenon la double peine, because foreigners are made to pay a double penalty for their mistakes: first prison, and then exile. Both France and the Council of Europe have vacillated in their handling of criminal aliens. Perhaps that is because Europe feels ambivalent about its immigrants, and in particular Muslims from North Africa. The tales of Mahamed Nasri and Ali Mehemi, each in their own poignant way, are emblematic of the immigrant experience in France and Europe.


A Kind of Excellent, Dumb Discourse

Mahamed Nasri was born deaf and dumb in Algeria in 1960. He arrived in the banlieues of Paris with his family when he was five and ready to start school. One special school rejected him because it lacked space and the boy tested poorly. A second school expelled him for violence. A third school expelled him for missing tuition payments. The rest of Mahamed's story may be told through court reports.

Between 1981 and 1993, Mahamed was arrested thirty times, usually for theft. He was convicted ten times, leading to 108 months behind bars. In 1986 he was convicted of participating in a gang rape, and the following year the French interior minister ordered him deported. The Nasri family appealed to Strasbourg.

Mahamed is said to have the understanding of a kindergartener. Due to his lack of education, he communicates through crude pantomime. The experts retained by the French criminal courts, unable to talk to Mahamed,

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