ISTANBUL — Instead of discussing the Paris massacres and the ties between Islam and terrorism, Turkey has instead been focused on "Islamophobia." Someone not following the news could mistakenly believe, based on the debate here, that there had been a violent attack against Muslims in France instead of a jihadist terrorist attack against journalists, Jews and police officers.

It seems the Charlie Hebdo attack has become a tool for us to discuss rising racism in even the most multicultural and pluralist countries — hate crimes against Muslims, the growing Pegida movement in Germany, and the mosque torchings in Scandinavian countries where democracy is strongest.

The collective emphasis seems to be that Islam and Muslims are unwanted in the West, and that the West is afraid of growing Muslim populations. In short, every Muslim has become a target.

So what do we do or suggest apart from expressing what we believe are the new realities? What has been put in front of the West in terms of "secularist" Islam experiences, practices and attempts during the time between 9/11 and Charlie Hebdo? What is out there as significant as the Charlie Hebdo massacre to prevent Islamophobia?

Every violent action, whether it be by or against Muslims (remember Israeli terror in Gaza, the coup in Egypt, and the massacres in Myanmar), leads us to determinations of racism, neo-Nazism, Muslim hatred and the clash between Western and Eastern civilizations. Islamophobia on one side, Islamic fascism on the other. Is there no middle ground?

Actually, there could be a middle ground, but that opportunity has been squandered.

Not long ago, then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the Arabic Middle East and North Africa (Maghreb). It was September 2011, and he gave a very meaningful speech directed at the countries that were experiencing hard times in light of the Arab Spring. Our prime minister, giving a lecture on secularism in the Maghreb...!

Secular Islam, before the shift

In short, his speech emphasized that the state (not the individual) should be secular. It should keep its distance from all religions, a vital principle for Muslim countries today. Remember who was disturbed most by this speech? The Muslim Brotherhood, the most effective organization in the Sunni Arab world, which Erdogan was visiting.

Erdogan and Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh — Photo: Magharebia

Some Islamic groups and individuals in Turkey were critical of Erdogan's pro-secular speech. But the prime minister persisted with this same rhetoric in the United States, which he visited next. He even pointed to the U.S. as the best example of a secular government.

Then what happened? Turkey's foreign policy shifted. Its efforts to become more effective in the Arab Spring while simultaneously acting as stakeholder in the Syrian civil war brought domestic changes in culture, identity and lifestyle.

The relationship between Islam and politics dramatically changed over the course of a year or so. Those who went to "sell" secularist Islam to the world returned home with Salafi Islam on their backs. Secularism was abandoned out of the desire to be the Muslim world leader, which brought a Salafist mentality — knowingly or not. And that put Turkey in a position to fuel Islamophobia.

But Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) had an opportunity to provide hope against Islamophobia, especially for the West. The AKP at one point represented secular Islam, which is in harmony with democracy, liberalism and most importantly, global capitalism.

And because of this, the international community once supported the AKP. George Bush was an ally. Abdullah Gül and Tony Blair were united on the path to Turkey's full membership to the European Union. 

But that was all before. 

Secular Islam here has been crushed by Salafism and its imperialistic greed in the Middle East. The result is a loss for Turkey and the world's despair in the face of Islamophobia.