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
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
"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
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.