A man under threat for his life by radical Islamic elements in his government spoke to a group of supportive Main Liners Sunday.Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, 42, head of the Weekly Blitz tabloid in Bangladesh, shared insights at a private home in Penn Valley to the gathering mostly of conservative Jews.

A moderate Muslim, Choudhury faces charges in his country of blasphemy, sedition, treason and espionage, all of which are capital crimes.

To date, no evidence has come from prosecutors against him, and supporters, including U.S. Congressmen and thousands of petition-signing scholars, have said his case is a politically motivated sham.

Even so, the Bangladesh Supreme Court has refused to drop the charges. The dissident and free speech advocate, allowed to travel a week in the U.S. on bail, said he would die if necessary to stand up to Islamic extremists, including Al-Qaeda.


"The radicals are very few," Choudhury said to about 15 supporters. "The problem is they are very loud."

Citizens and government officials everywhere are cowed by terrorists, he said, but by taking the ultimate risk he hopes to counteract their calculated effect.

"We are afraid to speak out," he said rhetorically. "If we speak out, they will kill us? Even if we don't speak out, we will die. So why not do some good for our world?"

Choudhury is said to be accused because he supported friendship with Jews and Christians and opposed those who advocated killing them and westerners as infidels through "jihad."

He is seen as resisting extremist factions who have gained seats on his country's parliament.

Bangladesh is a very poor, geographically small country in South Asia surrounded mostly by India. It has the world's seventh largest population crammed into a mere 55, 600 square miles, making it the densest population on earth. It is 83 percent Muslim, and seen by some as a hotbed for recruiting terrorists.

In 2003 Choudhury was arrested while attempting to board a plane to Tel Aviv for a Hebrew writers conference. He had been arrested and freed for sedition in 1999, but this time detractors accused him of working for Israel's Mossad and crimes against Allah.

He was interrogated for 17 months and held without trial. His court-ordered treatment for glaucoma was refused and he was forced to sign documents stating he was being well-treated as one eye deteriorated to near blindness. His questioners were "assisted" by radical Islamists who broke his legs with a field hockey stick. When he sought permission to attend his mother's funeral, he was denied.

An activist from Chicago, Dr. Richard Benkin, who has worked to free Choudhury and who has become his friend, mentor and guide, said, "This wasn't Guantanimo here."

It was real torture.

Choudhury has admitted one violation: attempting to travel to a country with which Bangladesh does not have diplomatic relations. Normally the fine is less than $8.

As he offered perspectives from his own war against terror, he was self-deprecating and humorous.

"My brother always tries to make everything very high," Choudhury said of his introduction by Benkin, a Jew. "But I am not a hero... What we are doing is not very great. What we are doing should be done by everybody."

He referred to every person in the room as his brother or sister respectively, emphasizing solidarity as "children of Abraham."

"It is not a question for a Muslim or Jew," he continued. "It is a question for a human. It is a human problem."

Choudhury made clear his motives are not to capitalize financially or set himself up for office if his case is dismissed.

"I am a small man," he said. "I have a small newspaper... We have taken the initiative. If not us, who will carry it out?... One day your own house can come under attack."

Choudhury has kept his faith and said that in the Qur'an, Allah has rules for interfaith marriage, and therefore injunctions to kill infidels are from a "fake law."

He quoted the scripture, "Do not denounce my prophets," which speaks of Jews, "or else you are not a Muslim."

Religious intolerance, Choudhury said, comes from theological error and corrupted motives being propagated among the unlearned.

It is a complex problem where all sides demonize the other.

"Those who say the Jews are evil, they themselves are evil," Choudhury said.

Statements like this have upset powerful people, but his persecution is having an effect. His paper's weekly circulation has grown to 10, 000, he said, with 450, 000 online "hits," but because no one will dare buy ads in it, he pays for it out of earnings from a printing business. "Really, we should print 60, 000," he said, but funds are lacking.

Choudhury said he hopes his defiance will be preemptive, "before they become more aggressive. Before they become more notorious."

The spirit of radical Islam is the same everywhere, he said, even if language and locality differ.

"I have to go back to my country," he said. "There's no use for me to stay in the U.S. or Canada and give big lectures on world peace. I have to stand so others will get the courage to stand."

Choudhury may actually be standing against many tides. He has received no support from Amnesty International and said "the western media" turns a blind eye to open truths and is dominated by "hypocrites." He also denounced key aspects of U.S. foreign diplomacy.

If America wants to "speak to Mahmoud Abbas as a moderate Muslim," Choudhury said of the president of the Palestinian National Authority," I will be ashamed to return as a moderate Muslim."

A supporter, Roberta Dzubow, decried the "kangaroo court" that has played with Choudhury's life and echoed a sentiment that she was honored to be in the presence of a true hero.

After his speech, he sat eating, drinking and chatting. It was the eve of his return, and he said he had enjoyed time in America.

A few people talked of a "next time," somewhat nervously and with hope. But all knew he might not have a next time.

In Bangladesh, six policemen now guard his house, wife and two children because he is a target. Last year his office was ransacked by about

30 men, and his ankle was broken.

He must travel in a car with "windows that are black," he said, so no one will know whether he is inside.

"Here I can walk," he said. "I can walk here." It was a simple freedom he did not take for granted.

To lend support or learn more, see www.inter-faithstrength.com or www.freechoudhury.com.