Bashar Assad

Baltimorean Matthew VanDyke didn't plan to be a motorcycling, freedom-fighting, filmmaking activist (and prisoner) in the Arab world, it just kinda happened.

All Matthew VanDyke set out to do, he says, was to be like Alby Mangels, the Australian famous in the 1970s and 1980s for making films of his own world-traveling adventures. But after what happened as VanDyke pursued this rather singular dream-including fighting against Moammar Gaddafi's regime in the 2011 Libyan civil war and spending nearly six months in solitary confinement as a prisoner of war there-he's instead been compared to author Ernest Hemingway and revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

This transformation from would-be entertainer to real-life freedom fighter has prompted VanDyke to think big: Asked about these comparisons to such cultural...