In the struggle against the Islamic State, much is being made of "radicalization."
Recently, radicalization was seen as a selling job or brainwashing done over the Internet by IS recruiters who sought to draw on a variety of grievances while presenting an idealized version of what jihad could mean. And some converts were self-radicalized — that is committing to the cause without the help of a recruiter. The reasons for turning to this pernicious form of violent extremism based on a perverted and wrongful interpretation of Islam are as complicated or as simple as the spectrum of converts. Disillusionment, deprivation whether of dignity or a productive role in society, naïvete in romanticizing life with IS, exclusion and simply seeking adventure or something different -- as well as the appeal of sex to those forbidden or unable to indulge -- are among these factors. Hence, from Minneapolis to Mollenbeck to Manchester, young Muslim men and women have been seduced and inducted into IS.
What is ironic is that this coin of radicalism has another, surprisingly invisible side. This unseen other half of radicalism is attracting millions of Americans without them or anyone else realizing it. And the leaders of this Americanized form of jihad turn out to be three candidates seeking the nomination of their respective parties for president.
Jihad Don, Ted and Bernie are the recruiters. Each in his own way is drawing on the fear, anger and resentment felt by millions of Americans toward their lives and their government. Equally ironic, Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz have called for bombing the [expletive] or carpet-bombing IS out of existence to end this jihadist threat. Yet, these two and Sen. Bernie Sanders are using many of the same techniques to attract followers as dose IS.
Their platforms share many common themes. The average American is losing out to the top 1 percent. Workers' pay is declining while the rich get richer. Mexico, China and other foreign countries are stealing American jobs as are illegal immigrants from south of the border.
Worse, all Muslims should be banned from entering this country unless fully vetted, a process likely to take time. Muslim communities inside the United States should be closely monitored for possible terrorist plots. And, at least on the Republican side, torture is fair game because since IS uses it and does worse things, that permits America to respond accordingly irrespective of the law, morality and our values.
Tens of millions of Americans so far have voted for these three in the campaign.
Cruz, Sanders and Trump would recoil at the notion of their radicalizing constituents. Yet, the vitriol and threatening tone of the campaigns and implications of violence -- from "riots" if one of the candidates was not selected to threatening phone calls to convention delegates -- are growing. Of course, conventions such as 1968 in Chicago have been filled with rage, violence and rioting. But the conventions in 2016, if not appropriately handled, could become even more disruptive in both political and physical impact.
Radicalism and extremism are not new to America. This was how our Revolution started in 1775. Throughout our history, radicalism and extremism were always present politically and socially from the protests and marches that got women the vote to banning alcohol in 1920. And these three candidates all represent forms of radicalism and extremism in many of their views, from calling NATO obsolete to proposing a return to the gold system and eliminating the IRS and breaking up the banks too big to fail.
Americans will resent even distant association with radicals and terrorists under the Black Flag of the IS or its archenemy al-Qaida. Yet, parallels exist. Perhaps if we understood the linkages between these two highly diverse forms of radicalism, that knowledge would be vital in defeating one -- IS -- and relieving the fears and worries of the other.
That understanding may be too difficult to achieve in a zero-sum political environment in which you are either with us or against us. No alternative course seems feasible. Hence, radicalism and extremism on both fronts persist and could actually elect a president. IS are you watching?
By Harlan Ullman who is UPI’s Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist and serves as senior adviser at the Atlantic Council and at Business Executives for National Security and chairs two private companies. His latest book is "A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace."