Pandering, bigotry won't solve extremist threat

Story highlights

  • More than 80 people are killed in an attack in Nice
  • Fareed Zakaria: Attack is a 'gruesome and barbaric act'

Fareed Zakaria is host of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS," which airs Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN. This op-ed is adapted from his show. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)The mowing down of dozens of men, women and children in Nice on Thursday was a gruesome and barbaric act. And it again prompts the question: How can we detect such a terrorist in the future?

French authorities say the attacker appears not to have had a record of affiliation or even interest in Islamist groups like ISIS. He was not, at least from what we currently know, religious, had no known record of attending a mosque or religious institution of any kind, and was not thought to be a practicing Muslim by those who knew him. (He did, however, reportedly have a long history of psychological troubles.)
    But why does France have this pool of radicalized people?
    Fareed Zakaria
    It is, of course, complicated. As I wrote earlier this year, the new kind of terrorist we are facing seems to be drawn into terrorism not through religion, "but rather who has chosen the path of terror as the ultimate act of rebellion against the modern world." In other words, they are getting radicalized before they get Islamized. It is also essential to remember that we are dealing with relative handfuls of people; the vast majority of Muslims living in France, Belgium and elsewhere are not extremists.
    But there is something quite particular going on in France.
    I'm a huge fan of France -- of the country, the culture. But I believe it has an assimilation problem. Muslim minorities there seem to be less integrated than in other European countries. There are reports suggesting that while Muslims are around 7% to 8% of France's population, they are more than 60% of its prison population. A Brookings study earlier this year also showed that four of the five most radicalized Muslim populations in the world are in countries of French culture.
    One factor could be the very aggressive form of secularism in France -- far more aggressive than the United States or any other Western country. A woman can wear what she wants in America. But in 2011, for example, France banned certain kinds of Muslim veils. So there may be something going on between that dynamic of French culture and the alienation that it is producing in some disaffected quarters. None of that in any way justifies violence, but if we are trying to understand why France seems particularly troubled, we have to look honestly at what differentiates it.
    What can be done differently to prevent attacks like the ones in Nice?
    France was already in a state of emergency, Nice had been on alert on that particular day -- a national holiday -- and police were present and armed. Clearly, more information, careful study and good analysis will be necessary if we are to find policies will be ones that are wise, workable and well implemented.
    Or we could throw all that out the window and try Newt Gingrich's idea.
    The former House speaker says that in the wake of the Nice attack, we should ask all American Muslims whether they believe in Shariah -- Islamic law -- and if they do, deport them.
    Never mind that applying religious tests violates the First Amendment. Never mind that punishing people for what they believe in also violates the First Amendment. Never mind that there is actually no provision to strip American citizens of their citizenship. Never mind that it's not clear where you would deport American citizens to, since they aren't usually citizens of any other country.
    Never mind, in other words, that the idea is immoral, illegal, unconstitutional and unworkable. It's stupid. Let's say the American government were to send FBI agents door to door, round up all Muslims, and ask them whether they believe in Shariah. I'm going to guess that the ISIS trained would-be terrorists among them -- the ones carefully evading scrutiny and plotting attacks -- would say, "No!" Then what would you do Mr. Gingrich?
    In fact, Gingrich's idea is not an actual policy proposal but rather a way to push emotional buttons. People were outraged and Gingrich wanted to feed and capitalize on that outrage. This is the opposite of leadership. It's demagoguery of the first order.
    It's a dangerous and complicated world out there. Let's hope that over the next few days in Cleveland, at the Republican National Convention, we hear from some people who actually understand this complexity, can stop the pandering and bigotry, and get serious.