Tuesday, July 31, 2007

EXCLUSIVE: Music against Fatah al Islam terror!

Regular readers of Harryzzz might think: Oh, my god, when will this guy stop nagging about the use of teargas against Fatah al Islam?! (sea earlier posts)

Well, as of now, no more teargas as a way to defeat Fatah al Islam terrorists in the Nahr al Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon. The new medicine: VERY LOUD MUSIC.

Seriously - If you play EXTREMELY loud music for an extended period - for sure the audience will turn mad. As Nietzsche already wrote: "In music the passions enjoy themselves."

The American Army used this tactic to get Panama's dictator Noriega out of his hideout, the Holy See's embassy (i.o.w the Vatican embassy of the Roman Catholic church) in Panama-city, in 1990. They placed enormous loudspeakers around the embassy. For days in a row US soldiers played very loud rock music, among it: Panama by Van Halen. After a couple of days, the nuns and the priests inside the embassy complained to the Americans. They too were loosing it. Again a couple of days later, a shaken Noriega surrendered.

The Lebanese army should do the same. Drive truckloads of huge speakers towards the camp. Park these trucks, including large generators, in a safe, but close vicinity of the area where Fatah al Islam militants are hiding. Then, press the play button and wait for five days. The best thing is to play only one song, continuously for five days. Lebanese soldiers surrounding the camp should all use noise reducing headphones (The best one is: The Bose QuietComfort™ 2 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® Headset - but at 300 usd a little expensive. So the army should provide soldiers with cheaper ones.)

The question though is which music will annoy Fatah al Islam most?????

I made a top three of songs:

1. Obviously, the bearded boys of ZZ Top come into mind. I mean, ZZ top and Fatah al Islam could be brothers. I suggest the song "Legs". At the other hand - it is pretty melodic. Even after five days the Fatah al Islam boys might like it.

2. In order to really annoy Fatah al Islam, why not play Hava Nagila, a popular Hebrew song that is sung at Jewish weddings! Hava Nagila means: Let's rejoice. Especially the third part of the song will be rather appropriate for the occasion:

Uru, uru achim! - !עורו, עורו אחים - Awake, awake, brothers!
Uru achim b'lev sameach - עורו אחים בלב שמח - Awake brothers with a happy heart.

I bet - after 5 days Hava Nagila, the militants will come out even crazier than they went in. Especially when performed by loonie Thai musicians. Check out this hilarious version of the song!

3. Kortatu from Basque Country. One of my all time favorite bands. Kortatu is pretty mental, ETA-loving and this song Zu Atrapatu Arte for sure will turn Fatah al Islam up side down on day two.

Anybody who has other music suggestions, please post your favorite song in the comment section.

Harald Doornbos

Monday, July 30, 2007

Again: Teargas for Nahr al Bared (It worked in the Red Mosque!)

A couple of weeks ago I suggested to use massive amounts of tear gas against the Fatah al Islam militants hold up in the Nahr al Bared camp in Northern Lebanon.

This because you can hide from shells and bullets, but you can’t from teargas. I code named my pledge: Crying is better than dying.

The problem though is that the Lebanese army is still not using teargas, but keeps on shooting and shelling. Obviously, without a lot of results.

Believe me, I lived for three and a half years in the besieged Bosnian capital Sarajevo (During the 1992-1995 war). Over a million grenades were fired at the city by Serb forces. But we could still run around town. Or hide in basements. Or find refuge behind walls, cars or trees. Or we would just stay at home, preferably in the bathroom. No, it did not have anything to do with stomach problems.

The bathroom, because it is the safest place in the house. Most artillery shells or mortars (which means they are fired from the the ground, not dropped from planes) actually do not do a lot of damage. For sure, if your house gets hit by a shell or a mortar, one or two rooms will be destroyed.

But artillery shells rarely penetrate more than one wall. This of course makes the bathroom an ideal location. The bathroom is commonly located in the middle of an apartment or house. And there are no windows so you wont get hurt by glass splinters.

An average house needs to be hit by around 150 shells to be fully destroyed. But stay in the bathroom, or even better, under the house in a tunnel, and you can basically survive everything up to shell nr. 120. This is exactly what Fatah al Islam’s fighters’ are doing.

In comparison – bombs dropped by airplanes are the real monsters. You need just one 500 kg bomb to level 15 houses. Hiding in the bathroom becomes rather futile. It only would result into an extra smelly death.

Let me be clear though. I don’t claim artillery shells are fun. Because they aren’t and they, for sure, kill. Around 12.000 Bosnians died during the siege of Sarajevo, 60.000 got wounded – mostly because of shells (and snipers by the way).

My god, those shells, those mortars are extremely scary. The nasty sound of an incoming mortar,the thunder-like explosion, the dust, the panic. It’s not a funny business.

I once stayed in a wooden bunker of the Bosnian army while our position got pounded by Serb artillery. Shells exploding at fifteen, maybe twenty meters. You lay on the ground, face down, hugging the dirt, trying to get into it, hoping you will reach Australia or any other place than this one. Every person defines fear differently. But to me, dear reader, this was fear redefined.

Back now to the situation in the North of Lebanon. Unfortunately, the Lebanese army –which lacks an air force - preferred shelling and shooting over teargas. Why be creative if you can do it the traditional way?

The result though is less convincing. After over 70 days (TEN weeks!) Fatah al Islam is still not defeated, the 2 km by 2 km camp still not liberated. That is pretty amazing, you might say. Well, wait till you hear the death toll on the Lebanese army side: Over 122 soldiers and officers killed. Truly stunning.

And the end of Nahr al Bared might be near, the fight is not over yet. By the way, most of the Lebanese media are reporting that Fatah al Islam fighters “now only control an area of 100 square meters” . Yep. That is about the size of my apartment. What they mean of course is an area of 100 by 100 meters; which equals 10.000 square meters. It seems that military- and journalistic amateurism go hand in hand.

Recently I visited Pakistan and witnessed another siege. In the capital Islamabad, pro-Taliban militants were surrounded in their Red Mosque-compound by the Pak Army. After a seven day siege the army attacked and flushed them out within 12 hours.

And guess what the Pakistani army used during their assault?

Exactly, teargas.

Of course, the Pak military used machine guns and RPG’s (bazooka’s) too. But tear gas and stun grenades were the favorite dish that day. From a distance, I could see white plumes of gas above the mosque.

Shortly after the storming of the Red Mosque came to an end, I visited the place. Except for guns and hand grenades, I noticed many gas masks. Apparently, the militants had expected tear gas, so they were prepared. But you can only prepare yourself up to a certain level.

Having a gas mask in these kind of circumstances is great (put it on in bed and it scares the hell out of your wife). But a gas mask is useless without an air filter in it. If you are being tear gassed, you have to replace the air filter every couple of hours with a new one. Without a doubt – the Fatah al Islam militants stored gas masks in Nahr al Bared before they started their insane operation of trying to create an Islamic State in Northern Lebanon. But did they have enough air filters?

Because if the Lebanese army would have started using tear gas from day one, I really doubt it the militants would be breathing normally on day seven. Let alone day 70.

Anyhow. It is all too late now. At least 122 army men are dead, many more wounded. For sure, Lebanon’s soldiers are mostly brave and good fighters. But the death toll could have been much lower, the defeat of Fatah al Islam in the camp much quicker.

Cynically, these days I notice more cars in Beirut and Tripoli with pictures of fallen soldiers on the back window than cars with Hassan Nasrallah bumper stickers. That is not a good sign.

Harald Doornbos

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Nahr al Bared - Find the 6.577 differences

The end is near for the Nahr al Bared camp in the north of Lebanon - quite literally.

Below you will find two sets of pictures, taken by me from the same angle. The first of both sets was taken on June 9th 2007 (21st day of the siege). I took the second of each set on July 19th 2007 (61st day of the siege). What a difference 40 days can make!

Click on the pics for enlargement. Or better, save the pics on your computer, print both and compare. The differences are quite amazing.

Harald Doornbos

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A sad poem from the rubble of the Red Mosque

Apologies for not posting much these days. After having spend ten days in Islamabad, Pakistan, I'm now back in Beirut, Lebanon.

As these are sad times, find below a poem, written by what me and my translator think is a 12-14 year old Pakistani girl from the Red Mosque.

I found this poem in the rubble of the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) after the Pak army took control of it.

During my visit to the Red Mosque (last Thursday), I walked through the female quarter of the compound. At one point I was alone in a room. Soldiers were patrolling outside, in the corridor. My eye fell on some notebooks and without thinking I took one and stuffed it into my bag. Maybe not a very respectful thing to do. At the other hand - these notebooks will eventually be cleaned up by the Pakistani government and, most probably, end up in some waste container.

As I had no idea if there was actually anything written in the notebook, I opened it upon arriving at my hotel.

At first, I was disappointed. Only three pages were written on. But after a Pakistani friend started translating the Urdu written pages, my interest grew. Except for her name and some useless words on page one, the following two pages were actually a poem. As my friend started translating, he looked at me and said: "It is kind of a beautiful, but very sad poem."

It is written by a young girl who followed a summer course in the Red Mosque. It seems she was placed at the mosque by her parents in order to study (memorize) the Quran. I have no idea if she wrote the poem during the siege or before.

But although those at the Red Mosque were obsessed with God, the girl does not once refere to God or religion. These are words, from the heart, written by a lonely girl who feels abandoned and misses her family. She doesn't need God - she needs love.

I know the girl's full name, but will only publish her first name here: Nasira. This because I am trying to track her down. This might take some time.

Concerning her whereabouts, there are two possibilities: Either she got out of the Red Mosque alive or she went missing, which probably means she died during the siege / storming of the mosque.

I will post every now and then about my efforts to find the whereabouts of this girl.

The poem goes as follows (original in Urdu, the punctuation is hers):


Oh mother, dear mother,
Why are you so [far] away.
Please tell me the secret, mother.
I am yours so please take me [to you],
And then please embrace me.
Oh mother, dear mother.

Under the shade of your veil,
I have all my memories.
In the shadow of your courtyard,
My stream flows.
Oh mother, dear mother.

It is said, that the mothers heart is very tender.
I am calling for you, so please come.
Oh mother, dear mother.
I am crying here alone.
I am worried, mother.
Make all these walls collapse,
And show me your glimpse.
Oh mother, dear mother.
Your Nasira is alone.
Call her towards you, dear mother.
And embrace her.
Save her from this deceiving world.
Oh mother, dear mother.

I remember those moments.
They make me cry.
I used to sleep in your courtyard.
Call me again to you, oh mother, dear mother.
Whenever I miss you,
It makes me cry.
Embrace me again.
Call me to you.
Oh mother, dear mother.

Poem by: Nasira

Harald Doornbos

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Mijn interview met Hamas leider Osama Hamdan

Ok, since this very much concerns a Dutch topic, I'll keep this posting mainly in Dutch. It's basically about some left wing Dutch MP's who decided to meet a Hams-leader in Damascus. Big scandal in the Netherlands, since even Fatah doesn't talk to Hamas anymore after their Coup'd'Etat in Gaza. Turns out the Dutch members of parliament met Hamas leader Osama Hamdan. I interviewed Mr. Hamdan already in November 2004. Below, in Dutch, the interview.
Goed. Hieronder dus het interview dat ik op 24 november 2004 had in Beirut met Osama Hamdan, de Hamas-leider waar drie Nederlandse parlementsleden afgelopen vrijdag mee spraken in Damascus.

Maar wat ik nog wel even wil zeggen, is dat ik het uiterst merkwaardig vind dat traditioneel Westers links veelal zo enthousiast is over Oosters extreem rechts.

Ik bedoel: Ik vond Osama Hamdan een aardige kerel. Maar hij is een van de leiders van een foute club. Volgens haar eigen statuten wil Hamas "De vlag hijsen op iedere vierkante meter van Palestina." Hamas' slogan: "God is ons doel, de profeet ons voorbeeld, de koran onze grondwet, Jihad is onze weg en sterven voor God is onze meest begeerde wens."

En wat te denken van deze zin uit het Hamas statuut (artikel 7): "De Islamistische Verzets Beweging wil een realisering van God's belofte, waarbij het niet uitmaakt hoe lang dit gaat duren. De Profeet - God zegene hem en geve hem heil - heeft gezegd: De dag des oordeels zal niet plaatsvinden totdat de Moslims tegen de Joden vechten, wanneer de Jood zich verbergt achter rotsen en bomen. De rotsen en de bomen zullen zeggen:'Oh Moslims, oh slaven van God, er zit een Jood achter me. Kom en vermoord hem.' Alleen de Gharqad-boom zal niets zeggen want dat is een van de bomen van de Joden."

Tja, zoiets sluit echt aan bij de idealen van PvdA, SP en Groen Links.

Ook ageert Hamas, opnieuw volgens haar eigen statuten, tegen allerlei "door Joden geinfiltreerde clubs als de Freemasons, Lions Club en de Rotarians". Deze zionisten, zo meent Hamas, "zitten achter de internationale drugs- en alcohol handel". Ook zitten ze, volgens het Hamas statuut, "achter de Franse Revolutie en communistische revoluties [bedoeld wordt de Russische revolutie, h.d.] en andere revoluties waar we van gehoord hebben en nog van zullen horen."

Ik woon in het Midden Oosten en als ik met islamisten spreek - niet alleen Hamas, maar ook met andere clubs - dan valt het me altijd op hoe enorm hun haat is tegen, niet alleen "het zionisme" maar met name het communisme. Kijk, zeggen ze dan tegen je: Karl Marx was een Jood! Rosa Luxemburg was een Jood! Leon Trotsky was een Jood!

Natuurlijk zien Hamas en cs communisme als een "joods/zionistisch complot".

En daar zitten ze dan, afgelopen vrijdag in Damascus. De sukkels van de PvdA, van de SP en Groen Links tegenover de jongens van Hamas. De Rode Vlag, die ooit trots wapperde en een teken was voor de progressieve beweging, weggegooid. Of in ieder geval diep in de zak gestopt, want oh jee als de Hamas jongens het zien. Is het onwetendheid van de Nederlandse zijde? Is het een hedendaags Molotov-Ribbentrop pact? Ik weet het niet. Over mijn lijk dat ik ooit rechts zal stemmen, maar links bestaat inmiddels ook alleen nog maar uit een stel zotten.

En dan de conclusie van oppersukkel Martijn van Dam: "Ze [Hamas] zijn niet op zoek naar confrontatie maar willen Palestijnse eenheid creeëren”, aldus de PvdA'er.

Wat een bizarre opmerking net nadat Hamas een bloedige Coup D'Etat heeft gepleegd in Gaza. En eenheid? Goh, je meent het. Eenheid op z'n Gaza's, wel te verstaan. Ik zie het al voor me: Hamas-lid zegt tegen Fatah-lid: "Of je wordt nu onderdeel van mijn Hamas, of je wordt nu van de achtste verdieping van een flatgebouw gegooid."Leuke eenheid. Trouwens, heeft de delegatie nog gevraagd of ze wellicht een kussensloop van Jasser Arafat mogen hebben, want een van de eerste zaken die Hamas deed in Gaza was het plunderen van het huis van Jasser Arafat.

Ook zei Van Dam: „Ik vind het onbegrijpelijk dat de andere collega's dat niet doen en alleen maar een kant van de zaak aanhoren."

Dat is een beetje een drogredenering. Je kunt via duizenden websites, televisie en kranten er achter komen hoe Hamas denkt. Zo'n groep ontmoeten, zeker wanneer zelfs Fatah dat niet doet, geeft echter wel degelijk een politiek signaal af. Het is niet alleen maar "de andere kant van de zaak aanhoren".

Gelukkig dat Van Dam geen kamerlid was toen apartheid nog springlevend was in zuid-Afrika, want dan ging hij zeker steeds bij Botha op de koffie "om de andere kant te horen".

En dan nog dit. Op zijn eigen website stelt Van Dam de volgende vraag: Wat doe ik in de Tweede Kamer? Zijn antwoord: "Namens de PvdA-fractie voer ik het woord over de kenniseconomie, het mediabeleid, studiefinanciering en alles wat met telecom en internet te maken heeft. Daarnaast heb ik het oosten van Brabant als aandachtsgebied en vanzelfsprekend de regio Eindhoven in het bijzonder."

Mijn vraag: Wat doet zo'n gast eigenlijk in het Midden Oosten? Echt, het oosten van Brabant is toch werkelijk iets anders dan het Midden Oosten. Dit gebied wordt overspoeld door Westerlingen die hier allemaal een week lang een beetje interessant komen doen. Voor hen wordt het Midden Oosten pas een realiteit op het moment dat ze een knipselmap doornemen in het vliegtuig. Weg met dit soort Hekking's! Blijf in Juinen!

Dat hele bezoek van de in totaal tien Tweede Kamerleden heeft ongeveer 300 duizend euro gekost. Daar konden dus anderhalve maand lang 600 salarsissen van Palestijnse artsen in Libanon mee worden betaald.

Goed, ik draaf een beetje door. Want uiteindelijk maakt die ontmoeting tussen de drie Tweede Kamerleden en Hamas helemaal niets uit. Nederland speelt geen enkele rol in het Midden Oosten. Ik moest vandaag hier in Pakistan weer uitleggen dat Nederland in Europa ligt. En tijdens de cartoon-rellen van vorig jaar rende ik ook voor mijn leven door Beirut omdat bijna iedereen dacht dat Nederland en Denemarken hetzelfde zijn. En ik weet zeker dat Osama Hamdan de namen van de drie Nederlandse parlementsleden alweer is vergeten. En daar kan ik Hamdan geen ongelijk in geven.

Hieronder, zoals eerder gezegd, het interview met Osama Hamdan van 24 november 2004:


Door Harald Doornbos

BEIROET (GPD) – Aanslag, vergelding - aanslag, vergelding.

Terwijl de eindeloze spiraal van geweld tussen Israel en de Palestijnen al jaren duurt, suggereert de leider van de terreurbeweging Hamas in Libanon nu voor het eerst dat zijn organisatie niet meer uit is op de totale vernietiging van Israel. “Wij kunnen in vrede naast elkaar wonen.”

De hoofdstraat in het zuiden van de Libanese hoofdstad Beiroet staat vol met toeterende auto’s terwijl winkelend publiek overal rondloopt. Niemand let op het nauwe steegje, gelegen tussen een viertal flatgebouwen, waar een jonge man met een kalashnikov op wacht staat naast een zware, ijzeren slagboom. Hier, op de beneden verdiepingen van een hoog gebouw, bevindt zich midden in een volkswijk, het hoofdkwartier van de radicale islamitische Palestijnse verzetsorganisatie Hamas.

De leider van Hamas in Libanon heet Osama Hamdan, een 39-jarige Palestijn. Om hem te kunnen spreken, word je eerst uitvoerig gecheckt door Hamas. Nadat de bewaker de nodige telefoontjes heeft gemaakt, gaat de hefboom open en krijg je een begeleider toegewezen die je naar de derde verdieping brengt.

“Hier buiten geen foto’s maken,” zegt de man op strenge toon.

Daarna is het wachten geblazen in een klein kantoortje.

Natuurlijk is Hamdan niet op tijd; hij zou wel gek zijn. Want sinds Israel in maart van dit jaar de spiritueel leider van Hamas, Sheik Yassin, opblies, komt geen Hamas leider nog op tijd voor een afspraak. Dan maak je het wel heel makkelijk voor Israelische straaljager piloten.

Dat neemt niet weg dat Israel erin slaagde om kort daarna nogeen Hamas leider, Al Rantissi, te doden. En daar bleef het niet bij. Twee weken geleden nog bliezen de Israeli’s een auto op in de Syrische hoofdstad Damascus met daarin een top Hamas-lid.

Voorzorgsmaatregelen dus. Geen foto’s, geen aardige bewakers, geen gekeuvel met Hamas-medewerkers tijdens het wachten op Hamdan. Het enige wat je te horen krijgt is: “Wachten”. En tien minuten later nog een opmerking: “Rijbewijs of paspoort.” Kort daarop hoor je een copieermachine snorren.

Wanneer Hamdan uiteindelijk anderhalf uur later binnenkomt, schudt hij vriendelijk de hand en neemt plaats in een stoel.

“Nee”, zegt hij, “Wij zijn helemaal geen terroristen, wij vechten alleen maarvoor de bevrijding van ons land Palestina. Er komt een einde aan het geweld als Israel de bezetting stopt.”

Goed, met dat gezegd, kan het gesprek echt beginnen. Want de Palestijnse strijd bevindt zich in een diepe crisis. Niet alleen heeft de dood van PLO leider Jasser Arafat tot een machtsvacuum geleid aan de Palestijnse zijde, ook de door Amerika geleide oorlog tegen het terrorisme begint inmiddels voelbaar te worden voor Hamas. De Amerikanen hebben Hamas op de lijst gezet van terroristische organisatie’s. Tevens lijkt Israel sinds de aanslagen van 11 september meer speelruimte te krijgen van de VS om met geweld af terekenen met islamitische extremisten.

Een nieuwe situatie vraagt om een nieuwe aanpak?

“11 september heeft veel veranderd,” zegt Hamdad, “Vroeger luisterden de Amerikanen nog naar het Palestijnse standpunt, maar dat is sinds 11 september verdwenen.”

Volgens Hamdan zetten de Amerikanen Israel niet meer onder druk om tot een oplossing te komen.

“Vijftig jaar lang hebben de Amerikanen een verdedigingssysteem opgebouwd en op 11 september werd het duidelijk dat het gevaar voor Amerika uit een andere hoek kwam. DeVS is nu een gewond monster dat de Israeli’s haar gang laat gaan."

"Amerika is veel te druk bezig met Irak en Afghanistan en sluit haar ogen voor de Israelische politiek. Ik heb echter de hoop dat de Amerikanen diep in hun hart begrijpen dat wij slechts voor vrijheid vechten.”

Maar zelfs zonder directe bemoeienis van de Amerikanen, heeft de Israelische regering onderleiding van premier Sharon, besloten om zich volgend jaar terug te trekken uit de Gaza strip. Daar moet Hamas toch blij mee zijn?

“Oh, ja, iedere keer wanneer de Israeli's zich terugtrekken, is dat een goed teken. Een paar jaar geleden trokken ze zich terug uit zuid-Libanon, hopelijk binnenkort uit Gaza. Als ze tot het punt komen dat ze ook weggaan uit de Westelijke Jordaanover - wie weet wat er dan mogelijk is. Dan kunnen we wellicht in vrede leven.”

Deze woorden zijn nieuw voor Hamas. Want de organisatie, die een islamitisch Palestina voorstaat, heeft in haar handvest staan dat Israel vernietigd dient te worden. Hamdan’s opmerking ruikt naar een“twee-staten oplossing” waarbij Hamas genoegen neemt met een Palestijnse staat in de nu bezette gebieden, naast Israel.

“Ik zal het woord “twee-statenoplossing” niet noemen,” vervolgt Hamdan, “Maar ik weet wel dat als Israel doorgaat met het bouwen van muren zodat wij inwoners worden van een grote gevangenis, dat het lijden aan beide kanten voortblijft duren. Als Israel gaat voor een totale overwinning, zullen wij dat ook doen. Maar als ze zich terugtrekken uit de bezette gebieden, geloof ik dat er een mogelijkheid is om gezamelijk in vrede te leven.”

Deze zeldzame aanrijking van een olijftak door een Hamas leider betekent trouwens niet dat Hamdan de strijdbijl wil begraven.

“Hoeveel muren de Israeli’s ook zullen bouwen, we kunnen er altijd overheen, onderdoor of er dwars doorheen.”

Doelend op de raketten die Hamas activisten onlangs vanuit de bezette gebieden op Israel afvuurden, grijnst hij: “Bouwen ze een muur, houden ze er geen rekening mee dat wij raketten er overheen kunnen schieten. Wij zijn en blijven uiterst creatief.”

Harald Doornbos

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Inside the red mosque

I visited today the Red Mosque in Islamabad. But because a very dear friend of mine died today, I don't feel like writing a lot.

Mosque complex is still kind of ok. No major destruction. 99 percent of structure is still standing. Lots of bullet holes though and fire damage inside the madrassa and the student rooms. Some fire damage too inside and outside the mosque. The two minarets are a little damaged.

I expected much, much more destruction. Still, it is obvious that the Pak army has been cleaning up the place before journalists were allowed to visit it. And strange to see ok-looking books and clothes in rooms with very heavy fire damage. Also no bodies, no blood on the floors or walls. Not a single spot.

Anyway. It was good to see the complex with my own eyes after having to camp all these days in the vicinity and having heard so many explosions coming from its direction.

Harald Doornbos

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pervez Musharraf - You've got to love him (at least a little bit)

Sorry for not posting too much these days, but am running around town here in Islamabad, trying to get into the Red Mosque. To no avail unfortunately. The mosque is still a no-go zone. The army is cleaning up the place, said a top military spokesman today during a press conference. According to the army, they have to clear the place of unexploded grenades and other weaponry. I think they have to clear the place of bodies. Because it is pretty obvious to me that many more people died than the government figures of 60 or so militants.

But since nothing is clear on the numbers of deaths, let me say something about president Musharraf, the leader of Pakistan who, by many here, is being criticised for operation "Silence" (The storming of the Red Mosque)

"Musharraf bashing" seems a national sport here in Pakistan.

The intellectuals hate him, because he cancelled 'democracy'. The PPP and PML diehards despise him, because he kicked their party leaders out of the country. The secularists don't like him because he works with the Islamists. The Islamists hate him because he is a secularist and a puppet of the White House.

So that leaves me, a Dutchman in Islamabad, about the only one - among 150 million Pakistanis - who kind of likes the president.

I'll explain why.

The sheer fact that 'Musharraf-bashing' is so popular here, is one of the main reasons. I mean, president Musharraf is - officially - a dictator. The general took power in 1999 during a bloodless coup. Since then he has never allowed real free and fair elections. A bad man, you would think. That is, until you see and hear the 'Musharraf bashing' in the papers, on TV, in the streets. Where do you find a dictatorship where it is entirely ok to criticize the dictator?

I've recently visited many press conferences here and spoke to many Pakistani journalists. My god - it is fantastic how they yell at ministers, ask very annoying questions to highly ranked military men and are day and night critical of every thing that is mildly connected to the government. God, I wish journalists in my country, The Netherlands, where so critical of the state.

But not only deserve Pakistan's journalists a medal for bravery, but president Musharraf too.

A medal for the journalists for being critical (although sometimes very much into the conspiracy mood) and president Musharraf for allowing this never ending stream of criticism, which is often very unfair and personal.

Because at the end of the day, president Musharraf is a dictator. He has the power to kill you or me without being punished. But where many dictators indeed kill you, me and hundreds of thousands others, president Musharraf holds back. This truly is a remarkable part of Pervez Musharraf's personality.

It is easy for anybody to criticize Musharraf because those people are not in the position to kill millions and grab billions. But lets be fair: Most people who are in a situation to kill or steal, do it. Saddam Hussein, Pinochet, Marcos, good old Idi Amin. Well, we could go on for hours. By the by, I would rather spend a holiday with dictator Musharraf than with that 'democratically elected' little man from Iran or President Silly from the United States.

During Musharraf's regime, the press became more free, the government is less corrupt, the economy is improving, the Pakistani army performed an excellent job during last years earthquake, relations with India improved and Pakistan hunted more asshole Jehadis down than any other player in the War against Terror. And, not very important, but quite significantly: President Musharraf even legalized love-marriage. Because until around 2003 it was ILLEGAL in Pakistan to marry somebody out of love, ONLY arranged marriages - organized by family members - were allowed. Basically, you could be jailed or killed if you would marry somebody because you actually loved that person. Pakistan's democratic governments never dared to change this truly medieval law.

There are some down sides. Yes, Osama Bin Laden might still be hiding in Pakistan's tribal regions. Yes, president Musharraf might sometimes cooperate with Islamists. Yes, he might sometimes be an autocratic guy who, for instance, fires the chief judge of the country.

But do not forget that the ultra reactionary Islamists here tried to kill him already four times. The latest attempts happened last Saturday. Considering this, I might actually rather join president Shorty and president Silly on their holidays, because I think their lives are less under threat than president Musharraf's.

You might now say: If Musharraf is such a nice guy who can stand criticism like no other, why did his army stormed the Red Mosque to flush out Jehadi militants and a bunch of indoctrinated women and kids?

First - I am not a religious person. But to quote the bible: "You live by the sword, you die by the sword." What the hell were all these guns doing in the Red Mosque? And if your philosophy is almost entirely based on the nobleness of reaching martyrdom (getting killed defending your faith) - well, then don't complain if you get killed defending your faith.

Second - Some of these "Waco, Texas-style"-kind groups here are totally out of control. Of course, they call themselves madrassa's (religious schools), or Jehadi's, but they aren't. THEY ARE DOOMSDAY CULTS. Comparable, for instance, to the Branch Davidians of David Koresh in Waco, Texas.

The Red Mosque members would run around with weapons, indoctrinate kids as young as four with hatred, glorify militarism, fanaticism and terrorism, beat up or kidnap people who aren't "good Muslims". And something else, which hardly ever gets talked about: How high do you think is the percentage of rape of little boys by their religious teachers? Honestly, sexual abuse of young boys is at many madrassas a standard thing.

For president Musharraf not to use force against a group like this - especially since they were located around two kilometers from his own presidential building - would be madness from the site of the state.

Third - It is not that the Pakistan Army immediately attacked the place. The leadership of the Red Mosque had a week to surrender. Around 1000 students (males, women and kids) were allowed to leave during the first couple of days. Some were arrested. But most of the students received 5000 rupees from the government and a free trip home.

Fourth - By storming the Red Mosque, Pakistani president Musharraf has made a clear point to all those whose goal it is to destroy Pakistan as a country or turn Islam into an endless amount of little, violent doomsday cults. Many Jehadis (actually many Pakistanis in general) think you can get away with everything here. Cheating, kidnapping, killing, running around with guns, drugs, fucking around with kids and women. The state is weak, many people think and wish. Well, no more.

Pakistan's president has drawn a line in the sand. The immediate result might have been rather bloody. But in the long run, the fact that the state has shown its teeth against the religious and reactionary ultra-right might save an awful amount of innocent lives here.

Harald Doornbos

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Red Mosque attack is ongoing, plus little video

Here a couple of seconds of video I shot this morning. Pak army holds us at a 400 meters distance from the Red Mosque, so we cant see what's happening around the mosque. Only thing is to use your ears. So the clip is nothing spectacular, but it is at at least something:

Here the rest of the story I wrote earliers this morning:

I Just came back from the vicinity of the Red Mosque or Lal Mashid. Fighting still going on. Hear a lot of explosions - probably hand grenades used by the Pak army to flush out the last militants from the basements. Also sporadic machine gun fire.

Media is not allowed entrance to the mosque. So we are kind of camping 400 meters away. As I know a little path through gardens in the area, I managed to get at 150 meters. Lots of nearby gunfire. Almost tripped over some army telephone wires. Was caught a little later by some Pak soldiers who told me to leave the area.

Anyhow. Am rather busy now. Not a lot of time. The operation will probably last another couple of hours. It is really in its final stage. Some women en children were transferred from inside the mosque to a sports stadium by the Pak authorities. Deathtoll stands currently at 40 militans dead, three SSG troops (Pak special forces) and five soldiers. These numbers are not final of course. The operation by the way is called "Operation Silence".

Must run now. Later more.

Harald Doornbos

Monday, July 09, 2007

I bow my head in shame....

Yesterday evening I wrote that the attack on the Red Mosque would happen any moment. Around 04.00 AM, Monday morning (see posting below)...

Well, I bow my head in shame. I've been all night close to the Red Mosque, but absolutely nothing happened! I was totally wrong!

Some shooting until 02.00 AM. But after that...total silence. The most peaceful place on earth. No offensive, not even a small one - absolutely nothing. Thank you very little.
Of course great for the people in the mosque, the soldiers and the residents of the area. But who thinks off me? I've been sleeping, first, on a chair, under a tree. Later I moved to the floor of some kind of Pakistani wedding tent, set up by the authorities for the press.
Anyhow. Around 10.00 am, this morning, shooting started again. Not much, but a little. Amazingly, the Pakistani authorities served a delicious breakfast in the wedding tent, around 300 meters away from the Red Mosque, or Lal Mashid. Absolutely fantastic. Even coffee was provided for (Remember Pakistan is very much a tea country, coffee is kind of hard to find).
As actor Robert Duvall would have said: "I love the smell of Nescafe in the morning". But this was more Apocalypse Not, than Now.
Here are some conclusions of an sweaty and mosquito-all-around night:
1. Never predict anything - wait till it happens (or not)

2. Predict only in case the guy in charge tells you.

3. The Pakistani army is, without any doubt, a great army. These guys are just nice. The soldiers are friendly, polite and an always in for some jokes. The officers extremely well educated, and very knowledgeable. Even without anything happening, these guys make it worth to hang around.

4. If you really want to know when the standoff around the Red Mosque will come to an end - surf for an other website.

5. No showdown, no offensive, and boredom in general, result in dreadful, but very artistic, pictures of birds, birds and birds...(all taken from my spot, close to the mosque). See the amazingly exiting results below!

Harald Doornbos

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The attack on the Red Mosque is gonna happen tonight!

Well, you never know of course. But tonight will be D-Day for Islamabad. I'm not gonna sleep, but hang out close the Red Mosque. All my batteries of phones and camera's are full. Just ordered enough soft drinks and cigarettes to survive the night.

Because all signs are there that Pakistani troops tonight will attack Islamic militants inside the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid). To be clear: That is the night from Sunday to Monday, Pakistani time. I expect the Army operation to start around Monday, 04.00 AM.

A couple of hours ago, Islamic fundamentalists, killed three Chinese workers in Peshawar. The killers shouted Islamic slogans during the killing of the Chinese nationals.

This - and the killing around the mosque last night of a major-colonel of Pakistan's SSG - makes it intolerable for president Musharraf to continue the standoff in Islamabad. SSG is by the way the Pakistani equivalent of the British SAS.

Instead of killing or harassing their usual targets (Americans), Islamic militants have recently started killing and kidnapping Chinese workers here. Not because they don't like chicken-sweet-and-sour, but because China is THE ally of president Musharraf.

While the US-Pakistan friendship is very much a marriage of interest without much love between the two, the Pakistan-China relation is very much a love marriage.

Almost all consumer goods here in Pakistan come from China. The country is majorly investing in Pakistan. China helps fixing a mountain road connecting both countries (Karakoram Highway). China and Pakistan developed weapons together (One of the most recent ones is the development of the JF-17 Thunder jet fighter). And Last but not least - China was a major help in developing Pakistan's nuclear bomb.

Over the last half year, the Red Mosque and their aggressive pro-Taliban style actions in Islamabad has been an annoying development. But it wasn't more than annoying.

This all changed when the Red Mosque radicals started to kidnap Chinese women and men, who were accused by the Red Mosque vigilantes as prostitutes and pimps.

The Chinese government labelled the situation in Pakistan for its nationals so dangerous, that, on June 27th 2007, the Chinese government urgently asked the Pakistani authorities to guarantee the safety of its nationals. This Chinese request is highly unusual. And among friends, highly embarrassing for president Musharraf.

Since June 27th it all has been different. Five days later Red Mosque militants and Pakistani police, Rangers and Army men clashed close to the mosque. 20 people died. Immediately, the army laid siege to the mosque. 1200 people surrendered last Wednesday, but around 1000 stayed inside.

I shortly spoke today to Pakistani Religious Affairs Minister, Mohammad Ejaz ul-Haq (You might remember, he is the son of former Pakistani president Zia ul-Haq). He told me that a rather small group (70 - 80 men) inside the Red Mosque are die-hard Jihadis. "These people are definitely the worst terrorist imaginably," he said, "They are worst people than Taliban and Al Qaeda combined."

Mr Ul-Haq told me also that "The people who tried to kill [Pakistani] Prime Minister Aziz are inside the mosque." Pakistani PM Shaukat Aziz was targeted in July 2004 by a suicide bomber who blew himself up next to Mr. Aziz car. Five bystanders died.

So it is serious. Luckily I today received my special "curfew pass" - which means that the army will allow you to hang out relatively close to the mosque, even when it is curfew.

It's now or never. Anyway - I'm off to the Red Mosque area. Good night to all and good morning Pakistan....

At the other hand - I've been many times wrong in my predictions. So maybe the stand-off will just continue, leaving me a tired and bored Dutchman.

Harald Doornbos

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Tough president, angry family members outside the Red Mosque

Here in Islamabad, these are times of life or death. Of individual or collective rights. Of religion in your heart or in every cell of your body. Of God as a brother or God as an abusive father. Eventually - this is the struggle within Islam.
But let's start with tough words from Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf to the around 1200 pro-Taliban people who are still holding out in the besieged Red Mosque, Lal Masjid, in Pakistan's capital Islamabad.
"If you do not surrender, you will be killed," Musharraf just told Pakistani television.
I've spend most parts of the day around the Red Mosque. It is getting pretty difficult to get close to it. The army has basically sealed off the whole G6 sector of town (2 km by 2 km). Yesterday I managed to sneak in and got to 200 meters of the mosque. Today no such luck. Everything very much blocked. Some large explosions and a lot of firing from within the area.
Outside Islamabad's no-go zone, I met a large group of people, who all have family members inside the mosque. Brothers, sisters, cousins. Most of their beloved one's are between 14 and 25 years old.
"They are ready to give their life for Islam," one man, Baber Khan, told me, speaking about his 14 year old cousin Amjad Mahmoud.
I asked him if Amjad could decide if he was ready to die. I mean, you need to be eighteen to drive a car here. To make such a rather important life-or-death decision is kind of heavy on a 14 year old kid. But Baber Khan's answer was rather clear: "That 14 year old children want to die - that is the power of Islam."
All of the waiting family members are, not surprisingly, very angry at the government. According to most of them President Musharraf is "just cracking down on the mosque because [US president] Bush wants it". I am not very sure US president Bush has ever heard of the Lal Masjid. Pronouncing it ("Lal what???) could be a problem too.
This is very much an internal Pakistani problem. Because let's not forget that the 'students' in (which means in Arabic and Urdu: Talib or Taliban) in the Red Mosque are extremely militant. Over the last couple of months they have violently tried to 'cleanse' Islamabad from all 'non-Islamic things'. They have attacked music stores, barbers. They kidnapped some Chinese girls who, according to the Red Mosque, were working in Islamabad as prostitutes.
(The funny thing is that the three costumers who were caught together with the Chinese girls were all members of the MMA - the radical right wing, pro-taliban religious block in parliament. According to the embarrassed MMA-members they were "just visiting the Chinese girls to get a knee massage because of pain in their legs".)
Recently Lal Masjid students kidnapped police officers and five days ago they killed a Pakistani soldier, a journalist and destroyed several government offices.
Not to do anything against the Red Mosque - in the middle of Islamabad, only one kilometer away from Musharraf's presidential palace - would simply be unsustainable.
Anyhow. A peaceful end to the standoff seems every hour less likely. Maybe presidents Musharraf's harsh words were bluff, part of a policy of the authorities to build up the pressure on the militants inside the mosque. And most Pakistanis aren't that impressed with the suffering inside the Red Mosque of the militants. The general mood in the country is verymuch: "Finish off the militants - they asked for it."
The family members I spoke to expect the worst. "My two brothers are inside," 17-year old Nasser told me. "This morning I spoke to my two brothers via a mobile phone," he continued, "They are only 13 and 14. They don't know what to do. But yesterday they got wounded. They were shot by the army while trying to find some water around the mosque."
But the worst is, at the same time, the best. "There is honour in death," Baber Khan, the man whose cousin is inside, "They will never surrender, never try to escape. They will defend the Red Mosque until the end."
Then we all heard the deep sound of a column of tanks approaching. I looked up and five tanks drove past us. 500 meters later, they made a turn, into the direction of the Red Mosque. More soldiers appeared. I heard shots being fired. Sand sacks. Barbed wire. Machine guns. Soldiers running.

About the pictures in this story:
Top: President Musharraf
Above: Baber Khan, with grey dress, and others waiting outside the no-go zone.
Middle: Red Mosque female militants, a couple of months ago, while attacking so called 'non Islamic institutions'. (not my pic, took it off the wire)
Middle: A stressed boy waiting for his family members who are still inside the mosque.
Below: Family members of the students watch as a column of tanks passes us.

Harald Doornbos


Here are some pics I made on Friday in the direct surrounding of the Red Mosque. First one is a Pakistani soldier, standing between gardens of houses of civilians, with the Red Mosque in the back. Second a civilian who - of all places - was hit in his large toe by bullets coming from the mosque. Third - group of Pakistani rangers take a rest close to the mosque.
At the moment there is heavy fighting going on around the mosque. Civilians living in the direct surrounding of the mosque (to make it clear: these people have nothing to do with the mosque, they just live nearby) are now leaving - scared for the final battle. Last half hour, security forces fired at least 11 grenades at the outer boundary of the mosque. Some rangers and soldiers are moving in. This might be the beginning of the large attack.
That said - how many times was the final battle predicted in the Nahr al Bared Palestinian camp in Lebanon? That mini war is already dragging on now for around 6 1/2 weeks. But to be realistic: This is not gonna happen here.
The Pak army is fully in control. The only thing that holds the army back is the fact that the militants are holding hundreds of children en women inside - many of them against their will. Some children are only five years old. To make it clear again - these kids were not 'innocently' dragged from the streets or so. These kids were brought to the mosque by their parents - either to get religious education or to be willingly used by the militants as human shields. Many parents - actually many Pakistanis - never believed that the Pakistani government of President Musharraf would ever start a military crackdown against the mosque.
But Musharraf - who was nearly shot from the skies by unknown attackers on Friday -seems to be pretty serious in destroying all these Taliban elements in the Red Mosque.
The question though is why now - Does Musharraf really wants to stop the talibanisation of Pakistani society, or is he 'just' using this issue to gain some credit among ordinary Pakistanis, who are very proud off their army. Secondly, the Red Mosque-issue has pushed all other topics in Pakistan to the background. No more talks about the controversy of the fired high court judge (who is very much anti-Musharraf) who was fired and is, most probably, to be re-installed - something which would be of course highly embarrassing to president Musharraf.
Harald Doornbos

Friday, July 06, 2007

In Islamabad now

Great, I made it to Islamabad. Arrived here around 8 am, so had enough time today to roam around the G6 sector of the city, where the Pakistani Army is surrounding around 1000 militants (and a whole lot of children en women) in the Lal mashid, or Red Mosque. The area is entirely sealed off by the Army. No way to get unseen in or out of the mosque. Basically an area of 1.5 km by 1.5 km is made off limits by the Pak army. I did not see anybody surrendering, but at one point a civilian came out - he was shot in his toe. I mean, the Red mosque is located in the middle of a residential area. So outside the mosque there's a strange mix of soldiers, para-military forces and civilians who live there and can't leave. These civilians basically stay indoors. Between 12.30 and 15.30 there was a temporary relaxation of the curfew in the G6 area. This to give residents the possibility to buy some food and perform jumma prayer - the Friday prayer, which is the most important prayer of the whole week. I heard a couple of shots fired. Sometimes pretty close by. But the fighting was definitely not heavy on Friday, more very sporadic. Most people I talked to support the government and the army. Many civilians told me that they are sick and tired of the Taliban-style mullahs. The fact that one of the leaders of the Red mosque tried to escape in a burqa, so dressed up as a woman - doesn't help the militants inside to get more public support. Everybody was very much laughing about, what they now call, Mullah Burqa. "If he would have fought till the end - maybe some people would respect him," a man told me, "But now? Trying to escape, while all the others are inside. And dressed up as a woman. Very embarrassing."

More later, and pics too.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

On My Way To Pakistan...

Am currently on my way to Islamabad, Pakistan to cover the siege of the Lal Mashid, the Red Mosque. So basically another Nahr al Bared - this time though in the middle of a capital. Will be interesting to see what is going to happen there. Will Musharraf stop the 'Talibanisation' of the country or will the pro-Taliban militants eventually be the victors? Expect first report from Islamabad, Friday afternoon.

That of course, if I get there. I've got a ticket Beirut-Dubai. But at the moment it is kind of impossible to get a seat on a flight from Dubai to Pakistan. Anyway...while you guys are all asleep, this guy will be camping in front of some airline office - begging for a ticket to Islamabad.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Arab Media (2) - And now for something positive

I feel in a positive mood, so hence the above title. As promised before, I'll sometimes post here something about the Arab Media.

But first this: There are NO good Arab newspapers. These are not my words - but of media specialists here in Beirut (who are all Arabs themselves).

Still - and that explains the positive mood - some papers are actually pretty ok.

Forget most stuff in Arabic, because it's all connected to a certain political party, royal family or some kind of loonie-toonie local sheik.

As mentioned a couple of days ago - one of the main problems is that most papers are made by unprofessional journalists. Result: don't waste your time.

Even a newspaper like the Daily Star (Lebanese daily) is actually a rather crappy paper. The only thing they basically do is publish AP and AFP stories. And everyday one extremely uninteresting culture-page and a sudoku. So only for people whose hobby is "collecting news wire stories one day after they were published for free on the Internet" it is advisable to read the Daily Star. Even better: Patients with serious insomnia can be cured by reading not less than five, bur for sure not more than seven Daily Star culture pages. According to medical reports: reading more than seven might be dangerous. At the other hand - Daily Star every now and then has a nice "own" story about some developments in Lebanon. More 'then' though than 'now'.

But let me not be to harsh on Arab papers. Because if you look at many newspapers in the West - my god, what the fuck is wrong with these reporters. The Sun, Bild, all this free junk...

Anyway, here are a couple of ok papers from the Middle East.

First of all - surprise surprise - a Saudi paper called Arab News. It is absolutely not independent (pro royal family), but the stories are nicely written and give some nice insides into Saudi life. (links follow below)

Second: The Asia Times. Very, very nice Internet only paper for people who really wanna know what's going on in the Middle East, South Asia and rest Asia. Really excellent stuff. Kind of always anti-Bush, but at least they've got a point.

And third (but for sure the best): Dawn, Pakistan's most influential newspaper (in English). Ok, Pakistan isn't the Arab world, but Dawn is a newspaper that Arabs can be jealous off. Highly critical of the Musharraf government, Jehadi groups etc, actually damn fair reporting. (the only thing I miss in Dawn are these little 'colour' articles - much of it is just news). But if you wanna follow developments in one of the worlds most crucial countries (I mean, almost every terror plot has a Pakistani link) you have to read Dawn. The Dawn guys manage everyday to produce an e-paper (an exact copy of the whole, print paper). And the best thing you can access it for FREE. Just register (takes a minute) and you can read Dawn on your laptop as if you were living in Islamabad. Dawn is great - even many Dutch newspapers don't provide this e-paper service. So: Pakistan Zindabad!

Ok'ish: Al Ahram from Egypt. But they tend to go on and on (and on of course) about Israel. (Another insomnia medicine?)

Very rarely ok'ish: Daily Star from Lebanon.
Am sure this list is far from complete, but anyway:

http://dawn.com/ (click on 'e-paper', up, left of screen)

And for all Iranian, Syrian, Jordanian, Iraqi, Lybian, Afghani and many other publications, the following link might be useful: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insomnia