Friday, October 26, 2007

POLL: MUSHARRAF AND BHUTTO SHOULD WORK TOGETHER

Ok, for what it is worth: A majority of Harryzzz readers wants Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf and ex-PM Benazir Bhutto to join ranks and fight Islamic militants together.

This is the - surprisingly - reasonable result of a recent Harryzzz poll (see right side on your screen). The Musharraf-Bhutto tango was supported by 55 percent of voters.

But 33 percent wants Musharraf to "screw it" and declare a full scale war against the jehadi's. It seems Musharraf is listening, check out here.

Only three percent (actually, just one voter) thinks it is high time for Musharraf to pack his bags and resign. (Harryzzz will try to find out if this voter is a certain Saudi chap hanging out in Pakistan's tribal areas)

Seven percent of voters (two persons) answered: What or where is Pakistan? It seems pretty obvious where these two votes came from.... Check here. (But why vote twice Mr. President - this ain't Florida!)

Harald Doornbos

INTERESTING REPORT ON SUSPICIOUS SYRIAN FACILITY

Readers interested in Syria, should check the following AP report, based on an investigation done by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS). It shines some light on the possible target which Israeli planes recently bombed in Syria.

CAIRO, Egypt - Commercial satellite images show construction in Syria that resembles the early stages of a small North Korean-model nuclear reactor, a report said Wednesday, speculating that it was the site hit last month by an Israeli air strike.

The photos, taken nearly a month before the Sept. 6 strike, show a tall box-like building near the Euphrates River that the report said was similar in shape to a North Korean five-megawatt reactor building in Yongbyon.

It cautioned that the Syrian building was "not far enough along in its construction to make a definitive comparison." The photo also shows a smaller building that the report says appears to be a pump station, which would be needed to provide water to cool a reactor.

The report was written by David Albright, a former U.N. nuclear inspector and now head of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, and researcher Paul Brannan.

In Damascus, a Syrian Foreign Ministry official denied the satellite photos in the report showed a nuclear reactor.
(read whole article here)

It really is a must to keep track of the ISIS website. Very well informed and knowledgeable people. ISIS here.

Download their PDF report (with pictures) of a possible Syrian nuclear installation here.

After you've seen those pictures, my advice to every freelance journalist who feels bored: Move your ass and get to that location! If you manage to make pics of that installation after the Israeli raid, your reward will be eternal fame. There's one but. If the Syrians get you before you "click" your camera, you might end up "eternal" in a more philosophical way. Simply put, you might get killed.

Update:

To all bored freelance journalists: Don't travel to Syria (see above)! As it turns out, the ISIS already has pictures of the post-bombed side which were put online today. Below the satellite pictures before and after the Israeli strike (pics from ISIS-document):


Download the latest PDF file with more info on the pre- and post-bombing side via ISIS here. Interesting stuff!

Harald Doornbos

Thursday, October 25, 2007

IN THE WORLD OF AIRPORTS, SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL

There is a big chance you have visited large airports like Heathrow, JFK or Charles de Gaulle. Big is beautiful – isn’t it?

But the chances are even bigger that you almost got a heart attack – or something similar like foam bursting out of your ears - during endless periods of waiting, yet another security check and frustratingly long delays (see picture on your right; a random customer at a large airport).

Ever tried to get from East-London to Heathrow?

Two hours of travelling on the tube in order to get there three hours before departure which is commonly delayed by an hour and a half. In other words: Seven hours of stress before you even board your plane. The same time it takes to travel between New York and Paris. Or read a medium seized novel. Or smoke a pack of cigarettes, which is of course strictly forbidden at most airports.

So, if you have the chance, you might want to try something different. Because when it comes to airports my motto is: small is beautiful. Actually, the smaller the better. That said: I understand that an airport without a runway would be too small.

Recently I flew, with Malev, Hungarian Airlines, from Beirut in Lebanon via Budapest in Hungary to Sarajevo in Bosnia. Agreed – not the most common route. But, my god: joy! hurray! What a pleasure! (see picture left for a, mildly exaggerated, view of the toilet ladies at Beirut airport)

In Beirut I live almost as far from the airport as possible. So it took me, travelling by car, exactly eight minutes to reach it. Ok, it was night and I’m a fast driver. But even by day, it won’t take you more than 20 minutes.

Since Beirut is a city along the Mediterranean the developers were so clever to build the airport right outside the city, not 80 kilometers away (see picture, right, below). Still, there is hardly any noise pollution. This because planes arrive from and depart to the side of the sea. Basically, planes here keep fish awake, not people.

Beirut’s airport is, more or less, 200 times more modern and clean than, let’s say, Heathrow. Yes, with around 20 gates it is much smaller. But much more convenient too. One big hall where people arrive. And, you guessed it right, one big hall where people depart. It took me, quite literally, ten minutes to get through security, check-in and customs.

Only airport-fanatics or invalids arrive here two or three hours before departure. In reality, one hour will do. Time enough to deal with formalities, shop in the well stocked duty free area, surf the net via a wireless connection (ok, you have to pay for this service). As it never takes longer than three minutes to reach your gate, you even have time to taste a freshly made cappuccino in the coffee shop. And remember – this all after having arrived only one hour before departure.

Another major PLUS at Beirut airport: You are allowed to smoke! How is this possible? Well, one half of the coffee corner is non-smoking, the other half is smoking. Everybody happy. Life can be so simple. (Non-smoking airports are, by far the Mother of all silly Ideas. Sure, a cigarette pollutes. But what to think of ONE AIRPLANE – which basically has a polluting equivalent of 4 BILLION cigarettes).

Anyhow, 2 hours 50 minutes later we landed at Budapest airport. You think London is centrally located? Well, maybe to get you to Brighton or Liverpool. But if you want to travel Europe, Budapest is the place to start. London at 2 hours, Paris at 1.40 hr, Istanbul at 2 hr. And direct flight to the US.

That morning at Budapest-airport (pic left), luggage arrived within five minutes. Going through customs – literally 10 seconds. Before heading for the center of town (for only 19 euros, not 70 euros like in London), another cappuccino at a very decent snack corner. Here, check your email on your lap top, read your favorite online newspaper, watch some youtube. Yes – access to very fast wifi Internet is FREE at this airport. In the meanwhile, smoke your morning cigarette. Again: Half non-smoking, half smoking (Do only Arabs and Eastern Europeans think logically these days???). After relaxing at the airport, I reached the center of Budapest in 35 minutes - not bad for a city with two million people.

A couple of days later, my plane for Sarajevo was suppose to leave at around 12.45 pm. As I woke up in a Budapest bed at around 10.30 I realized I did not have a ticket yet for Sarajevo. 45 minutes later I jumped in a taxi and - with some lucky green traffic lights - reached Budapest airport around 11.45, one hour before departure. At the Malev ticket counter, it wasn't a problem at all to buy one at such short notice. It almost seemed like the friendly saleswoman was surprised I did not arrive later.

Of course, the flight to Sarajevo left on time. Well, to be honest, there was a six minute delay. Arrival at Sarajevo airport (see pic) 50 minutes later. Again - just like Beirut and Budapest - shiny, new and clean. And - again - so convenient. It did not surprise me at all that Sarajevo airport has won the award for Best Airport under 1 million passengers. As I was really enjoying this trip, I now used a stopwatch. From plane through passport check: 2.20 min. Waiting for luggage: 3.45 min. From luggage, through customs to first coffee at the airport: 32 seconds.

Of course, I felt happy to have reached destination Sarajevo. But secretly I thought: Wow, can't wait for the return part of this trip.

Some useful links:

Beirut Rafic Hariri international airport here.
MEA (Middle East Airlines - the national carrier of Lebanon) here.

Budapest international airport here.
Malev (Hungarian Airlines) here.

Sarajevo international airport here.
BH Airlines (I have to be fair, a pretty crappy airline. Fly Malev, Turkish Airlines or Lufthansa instead) here.

Harald Doornbos

Monday, October 22, 2007

IN A LEBANESE JAIL, AL-QAEDA PRISONERS AREN'T HAPPY CAMPERS

Killing 170 Lebanese soldiers doesn't make you popular when you end up in prison. It now seems that regular Lebanese prisoners are beating the crap out of Fatah al Islam terrorists in a Lebanese jail.

[As I did not get this story fully confirmed by authorities yet, I have to use the phrase "it seems they are being beaten up" instead of "they are being beaten up".]

This, according to sources, is currently going on in the Roumieh prison, Lebanon's main penitentiary facility, located close to Beirut.

"The atmospfere in the prison is very tensed," says a well informed source, who wants to stay anonymous. According to this source, non-political inmates (basically regular criminals) are beating and fighting the pro-Al-Qaeda-inmates of Fatah al Islam. Because of the sensitivity of the matter, it is unclear how many Islamic militants have been beaten up. And, if so, how serious the beatings are (or were).

Lebanese soldiers have gained a true hero's status in Lebanon after they successfully fought these Islamic militants. The 170 or so soldiers who died are considered martyrs by most Lebanese. Subsequently, their murderers are among the most hated in the country (let's not forget, Fatah al Islam beheaded some soldiers).

Due to safety reasons, the Fatah al Islam-terrorist were put in several different cells in order to mix them with regular inmates. This because the authorities are scared of a prison break (with possible outside help of Al-Qaeda units) in case the Al-Qaeda supporters are put together and in only one part of the prison. Generally, eight inmates share one prison cell in the Roumieh-complex.

"There are fights taking place between the two groups," says yet another source here in Beirut, "Fatah al Islam guys aren't very popular in jail; to say the least."

According to a Lebanese army officer, the Fatah al Islam militants are lucky to be in Roumieh prison, which is controlled by the ministry of Interior, not the ministry of Defence. "If we could pay them a visit," he says, "We for sure would know how to deal with them."

Prison life is never fun ("Pick up the soap, boy!"). But it seems easier to be a pedophile in a Thai jail than a Fatah al Islam guy in a Lebanese prison.

Harald Doornbos

Thursday, October 18, 2007

THE VOLLEYBALL CHEAT OF ABDULLAH OCALAN - APO

Or: How I, many years ago, played volleyball with the PKK-leader in his guerrilla camp in Lebanon's Beka'a valley. And believe it or not: He and his buddies cheated...

After Wednesday's parliamentary vote in Ankara, it is official now: The Turkish army may and will cross the Turkish-Iraqi border to go after PKK militants.

But let me take you back to spring 1992. In April of that year I stayed, with a colleague, for a week in the main PKK guerrilla camp. It was located in the, then Syrian controlled, Beka'a valley in Lebanon. Here I waited for an interview with PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan (see picture right). And - to get the feeling of guerrilla life - me and my colleague were asked by the PKK militants to join them during their military training in and around the camp.

So we woke up at seven and did exercises with the rebels. We marched with the rebels. we climbed wooden structures with the rebels. We ran through mountains with the rebels (From nearby positions PKK instructors would shoot with live-ammunition right in front of you and scream: "Come on, come on - you would have been killed ten times over in Kurdistan!").

So yes - it was an amazing time.

And most of the PKK-militants seemed truly nice guys.

That said: We weren't free to do what we wanted. We had guards. We had to ask permission to go to the toilet. And yes - there were child soldiers in the camp (a couple of fourteen year old boys). And yes - most people were total fanatics. Like one Kurdish man in his fifties, who came up to me and said, speaking in German:

- Oh, I have such good news to tell you.

- So I asked him: What is the good news?

- "I just heard that my daughter was killed by the Turkish army," he answered, "You know, she was fighting, with us, you know. She completed her training here. And now she got martyred. I am a happy man. This is such good news. She is a martyr now."

I stared at him in amazement. First I thought: This guy is joking. But he wasn't and I would lie if I told you that he was not speaking the truth. Because at that moment, he was truly happy and proud his daughter got killed.


This was the scary and, to me, the sad part of the whole camp. Everybody you spoke to was ready to die. I don't mean a little bit ready, but very, very ready to die. First - for a free Kurdistan. Second - for Abdullah Ocalan, Apo, the Great Leader. During the first days I would tell people: "Well, I mean, ehh - Dying doesn't seem like something nice?!" But all of them would smile at me. "Sorry, but you are not Kurdish, you can't feel what we feel." After a while I did not even try anymore. Of course everybody here wanted to die - and there was not a single person who had a percentage of doubt in his heart or mind.

But the most interesting event during my time in the camp wasn't the military training, the camp life, the utter commitment to country and leader or - even - the interview with Abdullah Ocalan, Apo. No, the most interesting - and for sure most sobering - event was a volleyball match with Abdullah Ocalan. Especially because he and his buddies cheated.

One afternoon, me, my colleague and around ten militants were playing volleyball on a sports ground in the center of the camp (Which was surrounded by mountains with anti-aircraft guns on the peaks for protection against possible Turkish- or Israeli fighter jets). After playing volleyball for around 15 minutes a bunch of armed men walked towards the field (I did not notice them at first, as I was busy playing). The guys carrying guns were bodyguards, the only man without a weapon was nobody less than Abdullah Ocalan - the PKK leader. As they approached the field, all players fell silent.

"Apo is a man of the people," one bodyguard said, "He would like to play volleyball too."

Now everybody got extremely exited. The players nodded like "Yes, yes, yes", while many other militants who were drinking thee or discussing Marxism ran towards the volleyball field to see the Great Leader play. I only thought: "This is hilarious - I'm about to play volleyball with Abdullah Ocalan!"

Mr. Ocalan walked onto the field and joined the team at the other side of the net. As we were suppose to start serving, one of our team members hit the ball very gently to the other side. There, the ball was - again extremely gently - hit into the direction of Mr. Ocalan who immediately smashed the ball into our direction. Nobody from our side even tried to block him or return the ball.

After Mr. Ocalan scored, the players and the crowd applauded all very loudly. They clapped with such enthusiasm that it seemed something huge had happened in the History of the World.

Because of Mr. Ocalan's smash, his side got to serve now.

As of that moment it went all the time according to the same pattern. Apo's team served, we hit the ball back, two player's from Apo's team prepared the ball (almost handed it over to him, like it was made of velvet) and Mr. Ocalan smashed and scored yet another point. This, of course, was followed every time by a big applause.

After five minutes and at already 7-0 in favour of Apo's team, I looked at my Dutch colleague.

"This is getting silly, let's block him," I said.

"Good idea," he replied.

So they served again. Followed by our team's predictable response. And - surprise, surprise - two of Apo's teammates who politely played the ball in his direction. As Mr. Ocalan was about to smash and secure a certain 8-0, me and my colleague jumped high, stretched our arms and and blocked Mr. Ocalan. The ball hit the ground in Mr. Ocalan's part of the field.

"Oh, yes!," we yelled. Because now at least we would get our service back in order to make the match a little bit less one-sided and a bit more interesting.

But there wasn't any happy clapping.

Before we even could start celebrating, furious bodyguards ran onto the field and grabbed us by the arms and shoulders. We were literally dragged off the field. A couple of seconds later a PKK militant shouted at us: "Don't EVER, EVER do that again!". While the bodyguards kept us away from the field, we now were surrounded by hundreds of angry eyes.

"Sorry," we stuttered.

"Just stand here and don't play anymore," somebody told us.

"Just shut up," another militant said.

While we silently watched from outside the lines, we could see Apo score point after point. Everytime there was applause. At 15-0 the game was over. Apo's team had won. All the PKK fighters were happy, although delighted is a better word. Not only was he a great military leader, an incredibly wise Marxist and a fantastic leader of one of the worlds' fiercest guerrilla clubs - he too proved to be a natural born sportsman.

And I just could not believe that after the volleyball game, Mr. Ocalan wanted to play soccer. So around 20 militants and Mr. Ocalan started a match. All balls went, immediately, towards Apo who would - literally - pass ten, sometimes even 15 players (it was very much unclear who belonged to which team). All players (of both teams) either did not attack Mr. Ocalan or staged fake attacks at him. As I could see from a distance, Mr. Ocalan scored time after time. And just like during the volleyball game - every point scored was followed by a huge applause.

Mr. Ocalan was arrested in 1999 by the Turkish authorities. Today, he spends his days as the sole inmate of a jail, located on a Turkish island and guarded by 1000 Turkish troops.

While most Turks view Mr. Ocalan and the PKK as a bunch of terrorists (and now ready to follow them into northern Iraq), many Kurds still consider Mr. Ocalan their leader and the PKK an organisation which represents freedom.

I can't help it, but when if I think of Mr. Ocalan and the PKK I do not think of terrorism or freedom, but only of volleyball.

Harald Doornbos

Sunday, October 14, 2007

"A Handful of Sadness" - Afghanistan 2007

Well, this isn't a blog about documentaries. But it really wouldn't hurt to check out the trailer of A Handful of Sadness, a documentary about Afghanistan. It's made by my Slovenian buddy Bostjan Slatensek.

This year he travelled for three months through Afghanistan to document the destruction of large parts of Southern Afghanistan by NATO-forces. "It's like the Russians are back," he says.

But it ain't only destruction on the part of NATO troops. Afghanistan's backward traditions and customs seem to play an important role too in keeping it a violent and destructive place. Picture democracy here? Well - maybe in a 1000 years...

As Slatensek writes, "It is a country where being alive has a different meaning."

Luckily for the Taliban, they did not try to kidnap Slatensek while on his way in southern Afghanistan. Slatensek is one of the toughest journalists I know, a weapons expert and a very experienced rock climber (Among many other peaks, he has frequently climbed El Capitan, a 1000 meter high vertical rock formation in the US - see pic). Had the Taliban tried to kidnap Slatensek, I wouldn't be surprised with the following newspaper headline: Lone Slovenian reporter uses camera and tripod to capture 130 Taliban fighters.

Anyway, check out the trailer. Try to see the full documentary later on TV, cinema or youtube...



Harald Doornbos

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Excuses aan meneer Atlaschi

Nadat ik recentelijk een verhaal onder ogen kreeg van en over meneer Reza Atlaschi, bied ik hierbij mijn welgemeende excuses aan voor de wijze waarop ik meneer Atlaschi op 2 oktober op mijn weblog heb afgeschilderd.

Hiermee is de discussie over dit onderwerp, wat mij betreft, gesloten.

Harald Doornbos

Friday, October 05, 2007

In Pakistan, a smart voice in a bewildered country

Say Pakistan and many will reply: A hiding Osama bin Laden, a besieged Pervez Musharraf or a Benazir Bhutto on her way home.

Great names of great - uuuh, lets call them interesting - characters.

But a name many times overlooked in and outside Pakistan is that of Pervez Hoodbhoy. Pervez who? Well, you might have never heard of him. But this truly remarkable Pakistani professor is, by far, one of the smartest people around in the muslim world. Try to get a copy of his book Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality. Although written some years ago, a true eye opener.

I had the honor of interviewing him twice during my stay in Pakistan. And I'm telling you: If you (like me) are getting bored (and annoyed) hearing the Chomsky's and the Fisk's "informing" the world about the problems between Islam and the West, try Pervez Hoodbhoy's articles. Progressive, realistic, non-dogmatic and unapologetic.

Start here.

Continue here.

Harald Doornbos