Curing the world of bigotry

Updated: Oct 27, 2019, 07:49 IST | Jane Borges | Mumbai

The man behind the viral piece of journalism that called out Democrat Tulsi Gabbard for following a Muslim-hating cult guru, says, at one time he was himself an Islamophobe

Democratic candidate for President of the United States Tulsi Gabbard, of Hawaii during a campaign rally in a file photo from April 2019. Pic/Getty Images
Democratic candidate for President of the United States Tulsi Gabbard, of Hawaii during a campaign rally in a file photo from April 2019. Pic/Getty Images

In the West, where Islamophobia found legitimacy post 9/11, a rebel has found a cause. For the last two years, Australian journalist CJ Werleman has been doggedly chasing leads to fight what he calls injustice against Muslim communities, not only in his home country, but across the world.

What has emboldened his attack on bigotry and racism is his recent mission to "expose" Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, running for the Presidential Elections 2020. In an investigative piece, published earlier this month and now going viral, Werleman says he has got hold of transcripts, which prove that Gabbard, whom he describes as America's "Hindutva mascot", allegedly follows an anti-Muslim spiritual guru, Chris Butler.

"It's an important story because Gabbard remains a popular voice at both ends of the political spectrum, from the anti-war, far-left to the neo-Nazi, far-right, while also remaining a viable candidate in the 2020 US presidential race," says Werleman, in an email interview. "My fear is that she's readying to profit on her popularity among far-right voters by dropping out of the Democratic Party presidential primary and running as a Fox News backed third-party spoiler candidate in order to help Trump win re-election, and then secure herself a senior position in his administration. I'm sure that were more American voters to become aware of her ongoing ties to what is an obscure Muslim- and gay-hating cult, the less likely her political career can continue on its current trajectory," he adds.

CJ Werleman
CJ Werleman

Werleman, who has been raising funds for his journalistic activism on crowd-funding platform, Patreon, himself claims to have been an Islamophobe at one point in time. "In 2005, while living in Indonesia, I witnessed a twin suicide bombing carried out by Jemaah Islamiyah, an Al Qaeda affiliate. It was a gruesome scene made even more tragic when a woman, my friends and I were carrying away from the scene, literally passed away in our arms. In the days, weeks and months that followed, I became obsessed with trying to understand what could possibly motivate two young men to detonate themselves among innocent holidaymakers. I blamed Islam, and then spent the next few years devouring any text that attacked or smeared the religious belief."

Things changed after he earned academic qualifications in counter-terrorism and Middle East studies. "Having conducted interviews with dozens of Islamic foreign fighters, including senior members of Al Qaeda, I gained a deeper knowledge of the world's most popular religion, and what makes violent extremists tick," he shares. By 2009, he says, he was "cured of his bigotry".

Today, Werleman travels extensively, to understand why the voices of Muslims are being ignored. One such place, he says, is Kashmir, which he plans to visit next year. "I am very aware of the consequences of repressive moves in the valley due to having cultivated dozens of sources, including political figures, civic leaders and journalists," he says.

Ever since the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, Werleman has also been vociferously tweeting about the same. "At the heart of the issue in Kashmir is the fact that its people have been denied fulfilment of a promise that was made to them by the international community in 1949, a commitment otherwise known as United Nations Security Resolution 47, which is intended to provide them a right to a free and impartial plebiscite in order to determine their own future," he adds.

He also cautions against extreme right wing Hinduism, arguing that it is a religion of aesthetic beauty and peace. "It took two world wars to defeat racist ethno-nationalist impulses in the 20th century, but today, they are back with a vengeance, fuelled by racist misinformation that now stalk our social media feeds."

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