Back in 2003, in In Bangladesh, a Muslim-dominated country, the word "Israel" or even "Jew" was considered taboo. The poison of antisemitism and Holocaust denial were very much present in that society. For this reason, even non-Muslims were either shy or unwilling to speak out and say NO to the heinous culture of religious hatred.
During my childhood, when I was growing up in a notorious environment of antisemitism and religious hatred, my father used to repeatedly ask me never to accept the cruel tendencies of our society. He always asked me to look into the world by myself and find that Jews have excellent qualities. He also repeatedly reminded me that every thinking human being must confront Holocaust denial and antisemitism.
When I grew up and joined a Russian news agency, I met many Russian Jews and found those excellent human qualities in them. For this reason, many of them became my best friends. It was from some of the Russian Jews that I heard the painful stories of the Holocaust and the brutalities of Hitler and his Nazi gangs. I had the honor of meeting a few Holocaust survivors in Russia.
As I was about to start a newspaper of my own, I decided to confront antisemitism and promote interfaith harmony. I also decided to publish articles favorable to Israel, knowing full well that it was not going to be an easy task and I might face severe consequences from society and state machinery. Prior to the publication of my own newspaper, Blitz, Mr. Saul Singer, an editor of the Jerusalem Post, published my op-ed advocating relations between Bangladesh and Israel.
Seeing this article, an American Jew, Dr. Richard Benkin, contacted me over email. Later on, I helped him in getting one article favoring relations between Bangladesh and Israel published in an English daily in my country. When Richard Benkin came to know about my plan of publishing Blitz, he encouraged me, particularly after knowing that this would be the first-ever newspaper published from any Muslim nation which would vigorously confront radical Islam and jihad, denounce antisemitism and Holocaust denial, promote interfaith harmony and advocate relations between Bangladesh and Israel.
Blitz began its journey in July 2003, and its first issue had a front-page article titled – “Bangladesh should recognize Israel”. Our readers in Bangladesh, though they were surprised at seeing it, did not have an adverse reaction.
I then received an invitation from the Hebrew Writers Association in Tel Aviv to participate in an interfaith seminar, which was jointly organized by Tel Aviv University and US Department of State. I accepted the invitation with great delight and planned my trip.
On November 29, 2003, as I was about to board a Dhaka-Bangkok flight, which would connect me to another flight of El Al Airlines to Tel Aviv, I was arrested by the Bangladesh authorities. I was physically tortured for over a week during interrogation and then sent to prison as the authorities brought sedition, treason, and blasphemy allegations against me. I was falsely branded as a Zionist spy.
Could we ever believe that someone would be arrested, tortured, and imprisoned for a long 17 months just for being in favor of global peace and promoting interfaith dialogue?
At first, they did not actually charge me with anything but claimed that my “crime” was “espionage in the interests of Israel against the interests of Bangladesh.” You see, anyone who even suggests that all faiths are equally legitimate must be demonized, and you can do that by preying on people’s vulnerability to wild and untrue conspiracy theories involving the Jews.
Conditions were terrible for me and my family while I was in prison. I was kept in a wing for the mentally insane. The constant screaming, the terrible heat, the filth, and the accusations were intended to break me. My family was threatened and attacked. Police refused to act, blaming it all on my “alliance with the Jews.” They did not even let me attend my mother’s funeral. While my health deteriorated, my spirit did not.
People are punished for committing crimes. But could we ever believe that someone would be arrested, tortured, and imprisoned for a long 17 months just for being in favor of global peace and promoting interfaith dialogue?
My Own Story
One of the stories that have influenced my way of thinking is the story of Pharaoh and Moses. This Pharaoh said, there were too many Jews. He first tried to lead to abstinence through slave labor. When that did not work, he ordered the killing of every male child. When a radical person comes and gives an order to young men and women to commit suicide in the name of God, I am reminded of that story. The order was given by the evil Pharaoh, to kill Jewish male children for the simple reason that they are Jewish.
Where would we be today if Moses had been killed by Pharaoh? Why then do fundamentalists use prison and even death to kill all chances of peace? Why do they not see they are the followers of evil Pharaoh and not of the prophets?
Interfaith dialogues based on a will to know the other, not on competing theologies, can lead to understanding and respect for all faiths and beliefs and it is crucial at this time. It prevents stereotyping such as “all Jews, Christians, Muslims are like this or that”. It is through dialogue, honest debate, that I can not only challenge my own beliefs but gain new insight into myself and the other. If the fear is broken, the bridge is built, then a dialogue can take place.
Like most Muslims, I’ve been victimized by a socially supported information flow; one that taught me to look the other way when facts seem to contradict the politically-mandated and politically-correct worldview that we are supposed to adopt. I was taught that much of the world is in essence my enemy and that Israel and the Jewish people are the embodiment of evil. And I was taught to distrust—even though we all admired—Americans. And that is the case because the enemies of freedom have wormed their way into most social institutions in the Muslim world—the press, the media, governments, and schools. I have seen this in my own nation—a nation of good people. These enemies of freedom seek to control my people by controlling our access to information and our contact with those who offer a different point of view.
To avoid misinterpretation, I must emphasize that such practices are neither Islamic nor culturally mandated. They are political. And, thankfully, politics changes. In my own case, I was fortunate. My parents raised me to be open and moral, and I had a journalist’s natural curiosity and access to information via the Internet. I began to see that there was more information than we were being force-fed; information that quite often contradicted the political orthodoxy. And it opened my eyes. I saw that the United States is not any threat to us; neither are the Jews, Zionism, western culture, or the so-called “infidels.”
No, the greatest threat to us is the same thing that threatens non-Muslims, that threatens us all. It is a dedicated cadre of individuals who justify killing innocents by falsely—falsely—using our faith.
And so, like any good journalist, I began writing about it in Blitz, warning our people about the rise of terrorism, advocating interfaith dialogue, and urging Muslim Bangladesh to recognize Jewish Israel. Colleagues outside of my country—both Muslims and non-Muslims—joined me in this effort. And as we wrote, people listened. Not all of them agreed with us; in fact, most did not. But our efforts sparked the beginning of public discussion and debate on these issues. And my people began to recall the interfaith respect that is our true heritage.
In 2005 I took personal initiative in printing a Bangla version of the Torah while we had distributed hundreds of copies of the Torah in English amongst the leading libraries, entirely at our own cost. Now people can buy a copy of the Torah from any of the local bookstores. We have been successful in breaking the century-old wrong practice of considering Israel, Jews, and Torah as taboo.
Despite the fact that the charges brought against me were utterly false and unsubstantiated, the Metropolitan Session Judge in Dhaka, Mohammed Johurul Haque handed me a seven-year rigorous imprisonment sentence. I was released from prison on July 31, 2018, after serving the entire period of imprisonment.
The voice of Blitz
Our office was bombed in 2006 by the members of an Islamist group, while I was physically attacked... But nothing could suffocate our voice.
On my release from prison, my determination to confront radical Islam, antisemitism, and Holocaust denial became even stronger. I continued writing and publishing articles from others against radical Islam and jihad and gradually our popularity and size of readership began to further expand.
In Bangladesh, Blitz has been playing a key role in promoting interfaith harmony, while it is considered as the only newspaper in the Muslim world that denounces antisemitism and Holocaust denial.
Of course, due to our editorial policy of promoting unpopular opinion, Blitz does not get any advertisements from the local entrepreneurs nor we are under any grant from any organization. This newspaper is run with my personal resources and we manage.
Our office was bombed in 2006 by the members of an Islamist group, while I was physically attacked and even abducted. But nothing could suffocate our voice.
Shut down for exposing jihad in Dominica
On November 11, 2020, the online edition of our newspaper came under massive denial of service (DDoS) attacks for the 'crime' of publishing a number of reports about the Dominica government's selling citizenship and even diplomatic positions to members of jihadist groups, transnational drugs trafficking rackets, and several suspicious Iranian nationals.
Prior to these DDoS attacks, we were threatened by email by the agents of Dominica to either delete the articles and reports or face consequences. Then they even came up with the demand of removing all the anti-jihadist articles in Blitz.
For obvious reasons, we did not accept such an outrageous demand. We can remain offline for weeks - or even months, but we can never surrender to the evil forces.
During my journalistic experience of over three decades, this is for the first time I am witness to the horrific threats that can be posed by a rogue regime, which is resorting to dangerous cybercrime like DDoS attacks, with the notorious agenda of silencing or suffocating investigative journalism and free media. Most importantly, online media and websites are being openly threatened by the crime rackets with the threats of DDoS attacks.
While talking to Noa Fisher, editor of Daily Research Editor, cyber policy and strategy expert Gil Baram termed the attack to be very dangerous as there is a flood of sensitive data out there of governments, security firms, and even journalists, that can be in the wrong hands causing serious damage.
Cyber experts told Noa Fisher, it is currently impossible to trace the root of attacks due to the complexity of the internet and advanced mechanisms. He also added that “it doesn’t matter how strong your security is, the site can still come under the attack of DDoS again.”
DDoS attacks are illegal under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and anyone initiating a DDoS attack against a network will end up in jail with hefty fines. A senior cybercrime official in Tel Aviv said: “The fine can account up to US$500,000 along with imprisonment of up to 10 years.”
A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack is a malicious attack to disrupt the website and its traffic, service, or network by overwhelming the target with flooding of internet traffic.
I would like to appeal to the members of the international media to please stand in defense of Blitz and save us from the cruel DDoS attacks and if possible - call upon the international community and law enforcement agencies to investigate this notorious crime and bring the culprits to book..
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhuryis an anti-jihadist journalist, counter-terrorism specialist and editor of Blitz.