Islamic Extremists Threaten Ahwak Ben Tafesh Coffee Shop In Tripoli Because Their Mosque’s Electricity Went Out

Tripoli’s Ahwak Cafe is a lot of things. Nestled right across a Mosque in the Dam w Farz area, in the newer parts of the city, a stone’s throw away from the gorgeous Rachid Karami forum, it’s a place that’s become synonymous with the city’s most liberal youth frequenting it. In that coffee house’s bathroom is collection of graffiti, one of which reads: “Your ignorance of scientific knowledge is not proof that God exists.”

That’s probably the only place in Tripoli where you’d find such a statement, but it exists.

Ahwak Ben Tafesh did not have as easy an existence in Tripoli as you’d normally think a coffee place would be. I made it a habit to support it every time I went to the city, precisely because it represented the kind of Tripoli that I can relate to, that makes you hopeful of a better future for the city.

It was threatened by Islamists more than once. It was in fact attacked by Islamists back in July of 2013 when one of their newly-released extremists rode up with his goons in an SUV, stormed the place, trashed it, threatened people with weapons, and left.

Lebanon’s government did nothing about the incidence.

Fast forward nearly 4 years later. It’s May 31st, 2017, almost a week into the Muslim month of Ramadan and that mosque across the street – known as the Abdul Rahman Mosque – loses the electricity to its outdoor space and speakers.

In one moment, all hell broke loose. And what turned out to be a damaged electrical wire was turned into an attack on Tripoli being the citadel of Muslims in Lebanon, an attempt to silence the sound of Mosques.

So naturally, the day after, on June 1st, this statement was made, not by the Mosque but by Islamists who have not yet been identified:

Its overall essence translates to:

“Ahwak Ben Tafesh coffee shop in the Dam w Farz area has had a problem with the nearby mosque for a long time, and is known to have atheist clientele. They’re the prime suspect in  what happened at the Rahman Mosque. To its owner and clients we say: close the premises and stay home or move somewhere outside of Tripoli the city of Muslims, within 48 hours as a maximum. You’ve been worked.

Signed the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.”

Said “Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice” or الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر is considered to be a Muslim duty and has been distorted by Islamic extremists, notably in Saudi Arabia, to issue fatwas and decrees.

The mosque in question has denied to have issued the statement through a Facebook post. The area affected by the electrical cut was the outer courtyard as well as nearby locations which offered their rooftops for extra speakers to broadcast the tarawih.

By threatening Ahwak Ben Tafesh that way without any ounce of proof, with a government that has yet to act in any way to protect the coffee shop, its owner and its clients, these extremists are giving a carte blanche to the brainwashed masses that listen to them to go and destroy the coffee house in the name of religion. This is uncharted territory in Lebanon, and simply terrorism.

Some of the mosque goers were not particularly happy:

That particular mosque has a history of banning speakers they don’t agree with from being given the chance to hold conferences in Tripoli, to accusing everyone who doesn’t follow everything they say of heresy. Anyone could have cut that wire or damaged it. Ramadan is one of that mosque’s busiest times with the tarawih. One of the worshippers could have inadvertently damaged it.

And yet here we are.

Why Tafesh?

Because of its resistance to bans on breakfasts during Ramadan when the city’s administration was over-run by spineless politicians who succumbed to every threat by Islamists that thrived in the forgotten capital of the North,

Because of it serving alcohol and all kinds of haram things on the down low,

Because of the unabashed atheism of some its customers, their resistance to the hateful messages of those Islamists, their disdain of their city being turned into a safe place for every bearded man with poison to spew,

Because the place is a beacon of Tripoli’s liberal youth, who don’t conform to the status quo that’s forcibly enforced on their city by those who want it to be seen as the “castle of Muslims in Lebanon” and nothing more.

And this is disgraceful.

It is on the hands of the Lebanese government to find whoever cut that wire, if it’s a deliberate act, and to make sure that those who frequent the Ahwak Ben Tafesh coffee shop are safe and that the shop is protected from vandalism as well as terrorist attacks from extremists who refuse to have anyone who disagrees with them live in the same city.

Tripoli is not a city where such people should be allowed to thrive unchecked anymore. And it sure as hell is not a city where some creature can decide to ban establishments outside of its city limits with a 48 hour window and be met with complacency or even agreement. They may be a fringe minority but their political protection is becoming cancerous and detrimental to all attempts at improving Tripoli’s reputation and future.

The mosque’s speakers going out is unfortunate. If those extremists actually truly cared about the message of those tarawih and the true spirit of Ramadan, they’d have continued praying and forgave however and whatever caused that wire to break, not threaten and terrorize. I may not be Muslim or knowledgeable of Islam, but I daresay that means their fasting is not valid anymore.

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Tripoli’s Best Cafe: Ahwak Ben Tafesh Threatened By Extremists

Ahwak Ben Tafesh Tripoli - 1

I remember when I first went to Ahwak ben Tafesh in late 2012. I was reluctant to visit. I figured the place was definitely over-hyped. Why would I want to visit the go-to place of Tripoli’s liberal crowd?

How wrong was I?

I remember being captivated by the restroom. It was filled with graffiti, the most surprising of which was a sentence scribbled at the top right corner saying: “your lack of scientific knowledge is not proof that god exists.” Someone later on scribbled out the word god. I guess blasphemy is somewhat haram even on bathroom tiles. But these exchanges are all kind of peaceful and refreshing.

Ahwak Ben Tafesh Tripoli Lebanon

I’m not a coffee person so I don’t visit Ahwak for the beverages which are, based on my modest experience, quite good. What they serve, however, and I find exquisite is their carrot cake. It’s homemade and all kinds of awesome. Simply put, it got my carrot cake-hating brother to become a fan. Now isn’t that saying something?

Soon enough, Ahwak became a regular stop in my increasing Tripoli visits. During my latest stop, I was greeted by the main worker there enthusiastically, asking me about my extended absence. I had become a customer. This visit in question was this past Saturday, post Iftar in Tripoli. The place was packed. Some were discussing religion, it was Ramadan after all. Others were discussing politics, which is of vital importance in Tripoli, a city torn apart by the military ramifications of these politics.

Across the street from Ahwak, religious people were exiting the Mosque after the Ramadan Tarawih were done. The women were wearing long flowing robes as they walked by the cafe goers, returning home. The men huddled together, possibly talking about fasting. It was a peaceful scene. It was a beautiful time.

Ahwak Ben Tafesh Tripoli - 2

But that didn’t last.

On Sunday July 14th, around 11:30PM, the cafe goers at Ahwak were surprised to see a bearded man who had been released from jail a few days ago storm the place with a few of his henchmen. They sacked the place searching for the presumed alcohol that Ahwak served, which is non-existent. They were disappointed not to find any. But they didn’t stop there. Before leaving, after having terrorized every single person in that cafe, they told the employee that the adan from the mosque off the street will ring higher and higher to drown out the infidels in this cafe across the street.

The thugs then rode their vehicles away. They had done their damage. They will never be caught or questioned.

We can voice our support however we want to the owners of the cafe at hand. But what good does it make when it’s their business that’s in danger, when some ignorant dimwits might – at any given moment – stop the place from existing because it doesn’t fit with their retarded view of how Tripoli ought to be?

What good does it make to say that this too has passed when this might repeat in a worse fashion, at another cafe or store, at Tripoli or any other city in this country? What good does it do to milk a silver lining out of this when the people causing such mayhems are protected by even bigger thugs who might be MPs, ministers, prime ministers or has-been politicians wanting to reclaim their glory days?

Till when should the overwhelming majority of the people of Tripoli, which finds these people to be disgusting and repulsive, suffer and have their reputation suffer just because someone decided that personal liberties contradict with his view of the world?

This isn’t about alcohol. This isn’t about Sharia. I’m sure most of the people in Tripoli will rise against Sharia implementation in their city or this country before any of us blog, tweet, Facebook or do anything about it. However, what protects cafe places like Akwak which, in them being different, give a better view of their city – a nicer view? What protects the people whose only weapon is a few coffee beans and some divine cake when they face men whose weapons are presumably protected by some divine entities? Till when should the people of Tripoli worry about going for a coffee or grabbing a burger or doing anything just because someone out there with means finds it unacceptable?

Ahwak, I am one of your infidels. And I’ll see you soon.

The Tripoli You Don’t Get To See

I can go to Beirut today and take my camera with me. I can go to Hay el Sellom and take as many pictures, film as much footage as my heart pleases and broadcast them online with one tag only: THIS. IS. BEIRUT.

Am I doing Beirut a disservice in the process? Perhaps so. Is my portrayal of Beirut’s poorest neighborhood as representative of the entire city accurate? Perhaps not.

But isn’t that exactly what Lebanese media and people are doing to this Northern city?

I went to a cafe the other day named “Ahwak Ben Tafesh.” I can safely say it’s probably my favorite cafe in all of Lebanon. Starbucks and other generic places, move over. The place had charm and served the best carrot cake I ever had, which was actually homemade. As I sat there, observing the people walking in and out, I saw some of the most gorgeous women wearing tight jeans and revealing shirts, guys talking about going out to a pub somewhere with their girlfriends, a couple holding hands with the guy’s hand on his girlfriend’s thigh.

But most importantly, people we chatting and laughing and making plans. Just like normal Lebanese youth do everywhere else.

Then I went to the bathroom at Ahwak and saw this:

Ahwak Ben Tafesh Tripoli Lebanon

A stone’s throw away from Ahwak is a restaurant called La Plaka. I have yet to try out things beyond the salad part of its menu – blame the diet – but that place served one of the best chicken caesar (don’t worry, I made some sauce-modifications) that I ever had. The place was spacious with very nice interior decorations – huge armchairs, flat screen TVs everywhere, chandeliers dropping down from the ceiling – and better yet, they actually abide by the smoking ban.

All of what La Plaka offered me came at a cost of… 10,000LL. Yes, for the entire salad that normally costs double that much at any Beiruti place. Then I remembered a similar incidence in Gemmayzé when I ordered a salad that comprised of only lettuce and cucumber sticks and ended up paying about $20.

On the same street as La Plaka is a newly opened burger shop called Ten Burger which is trying to bring the Classic Burger Joint experience to Tripoli. Their burgers are excellent. They also come with french fries and coleslaw. And a soft drink. All for less than $10.

Tripoli is also famous for “Le Palais” or as we all like to call it “Al Hallab,” which offers the best Arabian sweets you can find probably anywhere. You can ask for a tour of the place’s kitchens where you see how they make all the delicious food you end up gorging on later. I witnessed how they do the famous “7lewet l jeben,” got to taste their self-made ice cream and gateaux. The place is beautiful and extremely distinctive. If you thought you are getting the “Hallab” experience by visiting some of the franchises in Beirut or Jounieh, you thought terribly wrong.

But Tripoli isn’t only about food. I go there very often. My best friend is from there. I go to class about five minutes away from that city. My father buys some supplies for his shop from Bab el Tebbane. A lot of our paperwork has to go through some offices there. Throughout my visits to that city, even during the now-distant times when I had a one pound golden Cross dangling from my neck, I never felt threatened or not at ease – even last December when Tripoli was, at least to most Lebanese, a war zone.

A couple of days ago, I got invited to an impromptu birthday party for my friend’s nieces. I was the only “outsider” there. The place was filled with family members. It took me five seconds to feel at home due to the overwhelming hospitality I received. It’s not just typical Lebanese hospitality – it’s people who are genuinely happy to have you there and take care of you and even wish you happy Easter.

In fact, most of my friends who are from Tripoli are not the people Lebanese media wants you to think they are. They are kind and friendly and great. Some of them are quite religious. Others are not. You know, exactly like Lebanese people everywhere else.

Is Tripoli in its best days? I don’t think so. Was it more lively, more upbeat, more receptive and less cautious a few years back? Definitely. Is it hurting because of the mass exodus of the Christians from it? Definitely – but they’re not leaving because of the city’s Muslims. They are leaving because of the dismal economic prospects.

For a city that houses some of Lebanon’s wealthiest people, it sure doesn’t show. The explanation is simple. Those wealthy people all have political aspirations but no foresight. They spend their money getting votes by giving food to needy people instead of investing that money in projects that would bring outside business to the city and help the people buy their own food. But that wouldn’t benefit them electorally.

Tripoli barely sees any development. There are no “Sama Tripoli” or “Le Mall Tripoli” projects that go on here. The second largest city of Lebanon has next to no investments coming into it and it’s not all because of the current security situation. This has been going on for years now. After all, as I had said before, Lebanon’s centralization isn’t only bureaucratic, it’s also economical. No other area outside Beirut is supposed to get the money Beirut and its suburbs get and this shows the most in big cities that need such money the most.

Tripoli is changing and not for the better. Anyone who tells you the opposite is bluffing. But that’s the case everywhere in this country. After all, extremism is a separate state of mind – no pun. However, this city isn’t the big bad monster that many have come to believe it is. It’s a place that’s trying its best given the hand it is dealt. It’s probably time we give it some slack.