Please introduce yourself and tell us your background.
I’m CJ Werleman, journalist, author, political commentator, and terrorism analyst. Although I must say I stumbled somewhat into all of these fields by accident, or rather by incident.
In 2005 I witnessed the aftermath of an al Qaeda inspired terrorist attack in Indonesia. At that time, I had published fewer than a half-dozen articles, mostly for the Bangkok Post. While I loved both writing and politics, I really had no interest or intention of becoming a full-time journalist or writer.
I became totally consumed by the events of that night, October 1, 2005. I became obsessed with understanding what could possibly motivate someone to detonate themselves with a bomb, taking with them dozens of innocent others. I blamed religion, and in particular I blamed Islam.
This motivated me to write a book on religion, and in 2009 I published God Hates You. Hate Him Back: Making Sense of the Bible, which blamed much of what is wrong with the world today, particularly terrorism, on religion.
Long story short, the book became very popular in the US, enjoying the number 1 ranking on Amazon Kindle for religious criticism for several months. But then I began studying terrorism as an academic discipline, attaining a degree in counterterrorism/security, while also currently pursuing a master’s in terrorism studies.
Not long into my studies, I realized how wrong I was in blaming religion or Islam for the motives of those who engage in terrorism. So, don’t buy the book. The premise is entirely wrong! Save your money lol.
The further I have ventured into the topics of religion, terrorism, and violence, the more I have become acutely aware of how much suffering and oppression there is in the Muslim world. Wherever you find Muslims, you find them occupied by a foreign power, oppressed by a majority population, ruled by Western backed dictators, or bombed, invaded, or worse.
Shining a light on these injustices has become the focus of my journalistic career.
Social media has played a vital role in every field specially in journalism, but there is a growing fake news culture. Please advise how our social activists may recognize fake news
Fake news is one of the biggest problems democracies face today, as a functioning and healthy democracy depends on an informed citizenry. The problem, however, is that the Internet, particularly social media, has provided much of the voting public with a great deal of misinformation, and thus why you end up with a guy like Trump.
For instance, the most shared article on Facebook in the final week of the US election was an article produced by a Russian blogger that claimed the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump. Given the article was viewed by millions of voters, and the outcome of the election boiled down to fewer than 90,000 votes, you can see how threatening weaponized misinformation truly is.
You see it everyday in your social media feeds, the sharing of articles that point to debunked claims, cherry-picked data attached to a meme-pic, typically produced by hyper-partisan blogs that are held to no journalistic standard.
Now, unfortunately not all of us are trained in media literacy, but here’s a perspective: get your news from outlets that fire journalists for producing incorrect information. Journalists and editors are human, and humans make errors. God knows I have, but serious news media outlets issue a correction whenever they’ve printed a factual error. Now, when a serious news media outlet is put into a position whereby it must issue a correction, you can be sure the journalist and editor who were responsible for the error will be reprimanded severely because factual mistakes threaten both the outlet’s credibility and viability. If a serious media outlet is forced to issue a second correction on behalf of the same journalist or editor, you can be sure both are looking for a new job.
How it’s possible for you that you’re living in USA but you’re completely observing the activities in South Asia because you have unmasked the exploitation of minorities in Rohingya and India?
Well, the Internet age makes that possible. But I have been fortunate enough to cultivate a wide sphere of contacts and sources throughout the world. I guess also I have established a great deal of trust with a significant number of Muslim communities, through both my work and travels.
These contacts and friendships have also allowed me to produce my podcast channel The Rage, which gives voice to Muslim victims of the Global War on Terror and discrimination.
Some people accuse you of spreading fake news against India and claim that the Pakistani intelligence agencies support you for this purpose. You don’t own it?
I’m used to these kind of scurrilous allegations. We now live in a world whereby if someone doesn’t like the news you’re reporting or it makes them feel uncomfortable, it’s dismissed as “fake news.” In more instances than not, the term “fake news” is invoked by those who don’t like the actual and factual information you’re reporting. For instance, anytime I post a video sent to me of actual Russian warplanes dropping bombs on civilian neighborhoods in Syria, dozens of Assad supporters will dismiss it as “fake news,” even when you can see with your own eyes everything that is happening.
I can also assure you no member from the Pakistani intelligence service has ever contacted me. But I’m always looking for more work 🙂
There is growing terrorism and extremism in the world. Who is responsible for this?
This is a big, broad thesis question, but I’ll do my best to summarize what is happening. In short, the world is getting smaller. The forces of globalization, including modern transportation and modern means of communication, are shrinking space and time between us. Not only can I now speak to anyone in the world in real-time, free of charge, thanks to the Internet, but also I can be anywhere in the world in under 24 hours travel time.
While globalization has brought its many tangible benefits, it has also made people more aware of the inequalities around them, and has brought the unfamiliar other into closer proximity. This has provided political entrepreneurs the ability to blame the unfamiliar other for whatever inequalities, injustices, or grievances a community might feel. So, in India you have rightwing political groups blaming Muslims for the country’s problems. In Europe, you have political opportunists blaming immigrants, and in Muslim majority countries, you have Islamist extremist groups blaming the West for theirs.
In turn, these political entrepreneurs cultivate in-group, out-group narratives, blaming the out-group for the in-group’s social, economic, or political anxiety, or even as a security threat, writ large.
Who are your favourite journalists in Pakistan, India and overall in the world?
Ok, I’m going to be biased here. Two of my favorites have been guests on my podcast, so I’ll go with MehrTarar, and Bina Shah.
Any advice for youngsters who have a strong desire to join journalism?
Read and write. Read and write. Read and write. Start a blog, be active on social media, build a following of people who share the same concerns as you. Become confident enough to pitch an idea for an article to a publication. That’s pretty much the only way to break into what is hyper-competitive, and underpaid profession.