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patrick martin

Globe and Mail writer Patrick Martin.The Globe and Mail

"If there was no Islamic State, there'd be no Donald Trump running for president," my youngest son said to me just before I dropped him off at his high school on Tuesday morning. I was surprised by how authoritatively he spoke; like someone who had spent a long time considering his position.

I had only asked if he had heard the news of the Brussels attacks that had killed more than 30 people that morning, for which the Islamic State has claimed responsibility. That was tragic, he said, but noted how IS is having its effect even in North America.

He had just returned from spending 10 days with his grandfather in Florida. My father-in-law, an active man in his early 80s, insisted on rousing his grandson from sleep every morning at 6:30 so that they could play tennis with two of his elderly buddies.

Every day, my son played, and every day he got into an argument with the old men after the match. All of them, including his grandfather, supported Donald Trump, the candidate and likely Republican nominee for president. And it was all because of Mr. Trump's views on Muslims.

The enclave in which my father-in-law spends his winters is predominantly Jewish and people there worry about becoming targets of extremists such as the Islamic State. They cite Israel as a Jewish state under constant attack from such people.

They don't think that the United States should allow into the country any refugees from Syria, or pretty well any other Muslims.

In Mr. Trump – who would close the borders to Muslim immigration and closely monitor U.S. Islamic communities, especially in their mosques – they have found someone who speaks their kind of language. It is a language that seems to be shared by many Americans.

Mr. Trump's response to the Brussels attacks on Tuesday was even shriller. On every talk show possible, he said he would "do a lot more than waterboarding" to extract information about possible future attacks by Islamic extremists, and would "close up our borders to people until we figure out what's going on."

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said it is "unrealistic" to shut down the U.S. borders. "That would stop commerce," she said, "and that's not in anybody's interest."

Not all Muslims are terrorists, my son told the old men in Florida one day. But this one older gentleman kept on and on about how "you can't take a chance and better to keep all of them out," he said.

"I told him that at my school [a French-language public high school] there are quite a lot of Muslims. I said that one of my best friends is a Muslim from Syria [whose family came to Canada a few years ago]. That made him quiet," my son said. "He didn't know what to say." But he didn't change his point of view.

Without firing a shot here, the Islamic State movement can chalk up another victory – it is succeeding in triggering an overreaction against all Muslims by otherwise intelligent, conservative people all over North America. That blunt attitude will, in turn, take its toll on North America's Muslim community, driving otherwise moderate young Muslims to support and maybe even join IS operations.

The Islamic State's victory will come if it succeeds in dividing Western society into a veritable clash of civilizations.

But rather than fall for their crass politicking and succumb to the fear of mostly unlikely attacks, there is an alternative approach, as my daughter recently pointed out.

Just last week, I took her out for coffee and told her that, as a present for graduating from university, I wanted to take her on a trip to a city of her choice from a list I gave her: Paris, Prague, Istanbul or Cairo. She chose … Istanbul.

I was delighted. I know just the hotel, I told her, right in the area of some jazz clubs and great cafés. We'll also go to the ancient city of Ephesus and stay in this mountain village I've heard of. She was thrilled.

Two days later, however, came the attack on Istiklal Street in Istanbul – right near that hotel and those jazz clubs. It killed four people and injured dozens of others. Even I began to wonder if I should take her there.

But my daughter took it all in stride and sent me a note the next day: "I'm so excited about our trip to Istanbul," she wrote. "Bombings be damned."

Neither of these young people, I'm proud to say, is willing to give in to the Islamic State's kind of intimidation.