Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich hit back at President Barack Obama today on social media. Obama had slammed an earlier proposal by Gingrich to “test” Muslim Americans and deport those who follow Islamic religious law known as Shariah.

Obama said at a reception for diplomats today at the White House, less than 24 hours after a deadly Muslim terrorist attack in France took the lives of more than 80 men, women, and children: “The very suggestion is repugnant and an affront to everything we stand for as Americans. In response, Gingrich tweeted: “I challenge President Obama to share with us a serious plan to screen out terrorists from the Syrian refugees. He is risking American lives.

Gingrich, who had been rumored as among Donald Trump’s possible vice-presidential picks, had tweeted earlier “Obama’s attack on me would be more impressive if he had ANY plan to defeat Islamic supremacist. 8 years of failure disqualify him as a critic.” He was responding to criticisms laid by Obama that Gingrich’s plan would be an affront to Constitutional freedoms of speech and religion.

Obama did not address Gingrich by name, but appeared to issue a thinly veiled rebuke of the veteran Republican. Addressing the deadly attack in Nice, France, Obama left little doubt about who he was criticizing. "In the wake of last night's attacks, we've heard more suggestions that all Muslims in America be targeted, tested for their beliefs, some deported or jailed," Obama said in remarks from the White House.

"And the very suggestion is repugnant and an affront to everything that we stand for as Americans."

"It's been a difficult several weeks in the United States, but the divide that exists is not between races and ethnicities and religions," Obama said. "And those impulses, when we do not speak out against them and build institutions to protect people from those impulses, they can take over. They can be unleashed, so all of us have responsibilities, not just a few."

He continued, saying, “We cannot give into fear or turn on each other or sacrifice our way of life…We cannot let ourselves be divided by religion, because that is exactly what the terrorists want. We should never do their work for them.”

Obama was criticizing Gingrich’s remarks that came in a July 14 interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity as the devastating news came in from France.

"Let me be as blunt and direct as I can be: Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in Sharia, they should be deported," Gingrich said. "Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization. Modern Muslims who have given up Sharia, glad to have them as citizens. Perfectly happy to have them next door."

Furthermore, Gingrich said Obama’s anti-terrorism strategy is lurching and is to blame for attacks such as the one in Nice. “This is the fault of Western elites who lack the guts to do what is right, to do what is necessary, and to tell us the truth, and that starts with Barack Obama,” he said.

On July 15, defended his remarks in an appearance on Facebook Live. He averred that "deportation is impossible" with American citizens. "It's not appropriate under the Constitution, and historically, we've always said if you fought against the United States, that the correct answers were basically jail as opposed to deportation," he said. "I think we have to talk through what should be the right way of handling people who are here but are not citizens."

Apparently seeking allay concerns among Muslims about deportation, Gingrich said, "If you are a practicing Muslim and you believe deeply in your faith, but you're also loyal to the United States and you believe in the Constitution, you should have your rights totally, completely protected within the Constitution." Gingrich said, "You should have nothing to fear. Your children should have nothing to fear."
 
"This is not about targeting a particular religion or targeting people who practice in a particular way," he added. "This is about looking at particular characteristics that we have learned painfully, time after time, involve killing people, involve attacks on our civilization."

For his part, Obama said his administration will continue to fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), in the wake of the “appalling attack.” “We will not relent,” Obama said. “We are going to keep working together to prevent attacks and defend our homeland. We are going to destroy this vile terrorist organization.”

The deadly attack in Nice was the third major terrorist incident in France in the past 18 months. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack. The perpetrator is said to be Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel (31). Last night, while the people were on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice to celebrate Bastille Day, Bouhlel drove a large truck through the crowds, bowling over and crushing his victims. Besides killing 84 people, he wounded 200 more. He was shot to death in an exchange of gunfire with police. Bouhlel was born in Tunisia but had French citizenship. Among the dead were two U.S. citizens: a man from Texas and his 11-year-old son. The killer had a record of burglary, theft and assault convictions.

Muslims were quick to criticize Gingrich. Senior Brookings Institution fellow Shadi Hamid tweeted, "Apparently a lot of people who know nothing about Islam are now experts on Islam and sharia, telling Muslims what their religion actually says." In Dallas, Texas, Muslim scholar Omar Suleiman was defiant. He wrote on Facebook: "Newt Gingrich, I'll make your job easier for you: I believe in every single tenet of my faith," Suleiman wrote in a Facebook post. "Because of that, I speak against extremists overseas and extremists like you and the fraud running for President. You can try to deport me now."



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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