By Emir Hadzic

Every act of terrorism seeks to effect political changes. When we implement those changes hastily, we can aid our adversary.

Terrorists want to trigger a backlash, and some U.S. politicians have been willing to oblige, with some even depicting children as security threats. It doesn't matter whether - as appears to be the case with the repugnant attack in Nice, France - the perpetrator is more of a petty criminal than a Muslim; there are points to be scored demonizing Muslims, and politicians willing to score them.

Still, the recent comments from Newt Gingrich were disappointing. "Western civilization is in a war," he said. "We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in sharia, they should be deported."

As a Muslim, albeit secular, I find such rhetoric worrisome because it is a clear and present danger to people I love. As an American, I find it saddening because it is a frontal assault on our country's ideals. As a veteran, I find it troubling because it is a threat to our national security.

Americans have legitimate fears of terrorism, and there is a reasoned debate to be had about immigration, but I refuse to believe that the most vitriolic anti-Muslim voices represent a majority. They clash with the values of a nation that has traditionally cherished diversity and was founded on religious freedom. They certainly don't reflect the country as I have experienced it.

I'm a Bosnian who fled discrimination and violence in 1995 and found safe haven in the United States. The generous welcome I received is what inspired me to give back to our country and protect it from enemies foreign and domestic. So I joined the Marine Corps as an infantryman and served eight deployments overseas.

Having spent many years defending the United States, I can tell you that everything I learned tells me that anti-Muslim sentiment and actions make our country less safe.

Our values and ideals are a national security asset. That might seem like a sound bite, but I've learned that people around the world are willing to work with the United States because they see us as champions of freedom, equality, and openness. It's those ideals that bind the United States to democratic movements around the globe and draw migrants and refugees to our shores. Hostility to Muslims alienates communities whose support our country needs in the struggle against terrorism.

At the same time, it plays into the hands of extremists who seek to convince a global Muslim audience that they have no future in or with the West. It's no coincidence that Islamic extremists use the same "clash of civilizations" rhetoric as Gingrich employed. On the other hand, tolerance and respect for the religious freedom of Muslims would expose the lie of extremist propaganda and create a powerful counternarrative.

The media could also help. As my friend told me, "I need to see imams who like America on TV, newspapers, or wherever, telling people what Islam is about." Muslims who reject extremists' interpretation of Islam would be an essential addition to our discourse. Americans need to see and hear them more often. Otherwise, Muslims will continue to be painted with broad strokes.

While the rhetoric denigrating Muslims is worrisome, I believe that the purveyors of hatred are misreading the public mood and overplaying their hand. Despite fear and demagoguery, respect for religious freedom cuts deep in this country. Two recent polls show that support for Muslims has actually increased among Americans in recent years. I've experienced it firsthand.

In fact, opponents of bigotry recently scored a small but meaningful victory when the Senate Appropriations Committee provided an additional 4,000 special immigrant visas for our Afghan interpreters.

For many years, there had been wide support for this program, which provides safe haven to Afghans facing danger from the Taliban due to their work with the U.S. military. The program enabled the U.S. government to keep faith with the Afghans who put their lives on the line and with American service men and women who asked them to trust us. This year, however, it faced opposition in Congress as the issue became entangled with the debate over Muslim refugees. Political leaders from both parties overcame primitive politics to extend and expand the program.

That's the kind of humane, enlightened, and pragmatic leadership that the United States needs right now. As a Marine infantryman, I defended both a place called America and an idea called America. I respectfully urge our nation's political leaders to do the same.

Emir Hadzic, who retires from the Marine Corps this month, is involved with Veterans for American Ideals (www.vfai.org), a project of Human Rights First. emir.r.hadzic@gmail.com