From Bikini To Burkini, Or Why Lebanon’s Tripoli Is Awesome

A picture of two veiled burkini-clad women, and another bikini-wearing on one of Tripoli’s popular beach islands is going viral today across Lebanon’s internet-sphere. The last time this many people were interested in the city was to berate it for the way it voted in an election, but that election is now long past and so has those people’s attention from this great city up North.

In that picture, the two stark opposites represent this city that I love more than anything else. So I figured, in this small space that I have, that I’d try to tell you – kind reader – of why this city whose picture you’re so eagerly sharing is worth your time.

1) Bikini versus Burkini:

Bikini:Burkini Tripoli

Picture via @Jadgghorayeb

Over the years, many Lebanese have come to associate an image with Tripoli as that of a city that is ravaged by war, where Islamists reign supreme and where seculars – or anyone who does not want to live by the Sharia for that matter – is not welcome.

The constant and progressive decimation in the city’s reputation is slowly being reversed as of late, with many flocking to its pristine beach islands, to the growing safety of its streets.

The above picture, however, is not an anomaly. It’s the culmination of years in which the city’s varying components co-existed calmly, away from politics and hateful rhetoric, and here they are in all their glory.

2) Beirut’s food prices will have a seizure:

Hallab

You’ve all seen that infamous “Grand Café” picture over the past few weeks and the comparison (although inaccurate) to potential trips to Istanbul that that same bill would’ve covered. Many of you have complained about the price hike in diner chains you’ve loved for years. Now let me tell you a short story.

Yesterday, I took a group of my friends who hadn’t visited Tripoli but to do some necessary paperworks that people of the North have to do in it to one of the city’s restaurants. Their first reaction scanning the prices of that menu – one of Tripoli’s more expensive places, may I add – was to ask one question: how?

Four main courses, drinks, and appetizers later, our bill was less than half of what we would’ve paid for the same combination at any given place in our country’s capital. And the food was great.

In fact, the food is great everywhere. From the restaurants offering Lebanese to those offering mixed cuisine across the city, to the vendors selling cheese and kaak, to the many coffee places many of which I love – Ahwak for the win – to the sweets places and palaces that the city have become synonymous with, you can do no wrong.

3) Lebanon’s biggest old souk is there:

 

Everyone loves to go to Jbeil to see its “authentic” great souks. And while Jbeil’s old sector is awesome, it is dwarfed by what lies in Tripoli’s old city.

Not only is Tripoli’s souk one of Lebanon’s biggest, and is relatively well-kept, but it has retained a flair of authenticity with it being a melting pot of all of the city’s inhabitants, across their sociopolitical status.

The old souks are still divided based on the different services they offer, from khan el saboun to khan el dahab, to the many Ottoman-styled hammams inside them. They’re a must-visit if you’re in the city and in the mood for some meet up with Lebanese history.

4) Citadel St. Gilles is awesome:

Built by the Crusaders, Citadel St. Gilles in Tripoli’s Tebbaneh neighborhood is an extremely well-kept fortress that, because of its location, is rarely viewed as a touristic destination. But it is, and you’d be missing out by not checking it out.

It’s almost 900 years old, has been morphed over the years by the many occupiers of the city into what it is today, and the place being almost always not crowded gives you a visiting experience that view other touristic spots in Lebanon offer.

The entrance is also a simple: 5,000LL.

5) Rachid Karame Forum is spectacular:

Designed by the late Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, the Rachid Karame Forum at the entrance of the city is a vast space that’s probably the most accurate representation of the wasted potential of the city.

Intended to be the hub of an economic forum as plans to turn the city into a Lebanese economic capital were underway, the place is now almost a ghost-town of modern unfinished architecture and landscape designs that will surely blow you away.

6) The Palm Islands are amazing:

Pic via The Daily Star

Pic via The Daily Star

A natural reserve set forth by the Lebanese state, a section of the Palm Islands has been made available for beach-lovers to visit in order to exercise their favorite hobby. From clean sands to pristine waters, the islands are near-free to get to – unlike all the resorts in or around Beirut and its greater area.

Fun fact: the Arabic name for the Islands is rabbit islands. It is as such because during the period of the French occupation, rabbits were let loose on the island. What were two soon became hundreds, and therefore the naming occurred.

7) Timmy’s in El Mina is the pub to go to:

IMG_6535

When I say alcohol, Tripoli is probably the last place you’d think of. But there’s a pub in the old neighborhood in El Mina called Timmy’s that will help you change your mind a little. It’s an old traditional sea-side Lebanese house that has been turned into a massive space for those who feel like they need to wind down after a long day or week.

From sand-stone interior, to chandeliers dangling from the ceiling, to doors manned by a camera based on which the owner decides which clientele he wants to admit or not, the only adjective that could describe the place is exclusive but approachable.

When I was there, I had a discussion with the owner about why he adopted such a policy. He said that he wants to keep the place at a high enough level to attract people to his city. And attract people he does. For the moment, most of those who flock to Timmy’s are either from Tripoli or from the neighboring areas of Zgharta or Koura or sometimes Batroun. But that could change.

8) El Mina’s corniche is one awesome walk:

The same night when I had a few friends try out one of my favorite restaurants in Tripoli and they got shocked with how cheap and good it was, I took them on a drive around the sea corniche in Mina. Stretching for more than 3 kilometers, it is one of Lebanon’s longest and more authentic.

From vendors in small kiosks on the side, to kids flying around kites, to men praying in the heat while they fish, on that corniche you’ll see all kinds of kinds, in a city that has everything you’d see.

9) The people are the most kind-hearted you’ll find:

From close friends, to the people that would give you money for park meters when you’re out of coins, to the hefty portions you’re served anywhere you go, to the overall sense of welcome they infuse in the air of their city, the people of Tripoli are some of the most kind-hearted welcoming people you’ll meet in this country.

I’ve had the pleasure to know many of them, some of whom were like my family at a certain point, and I call myself lucky for doing so.

10) Life exists North of the Madfoun:

The Lebanese border does not end sligthly north of Jbeil. Venture out. Explore a little. Odds are you may be surprised – even if for a picture involving a bikini and a burkini. Suck on that Cannes?

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To Burkini Or Not To Burkini: The Ages Of Men Deciding What Women Should Wear

When it comes to cultural assimilation, many parts of Europe have not been exemplary in the way they’ve dealt with the many minorities that have sought their land as refuge over the years, but none more so than France, whose problem with people who are lesser-white than the average they’re used to goes back to the time where it occupied much of Northern Africa and contributed to a mass exodus of people from those areas to serve as cheap labor for their home country.

The immigrants that flocked to France challenged the French about what it was to be as such: what is the French identity? What makes France as it is? How do we integrate such diversity into what we already know and take as scripture? Needless to say, the French model failed miserably.

Instead of integrating the laborers in French societies, they were settled along metropolitan areas with other destitute French, close enough to work but far enough from being part of actual French society, further widening the divide between “authentic” French and otherwise. Social programs, a hallmark of the French political system, also contributed to further encourage the differences between both population groups, further making the grounds for discrimination more fertile.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that in the France of today, and similarly to the African American situation in the United States, French jails have a much higher population of North African-origin inmates than of any other population, relative to their proportion of the general French populace.

As the French general public failed to grasp the fundamental problem at hand, the political rhetoric started to mirror the growing dismay from those immigrants. From having the French symbol “La Marianne” in a veil on the cover of Le Figaro, to tell people that France would become Muslim in 30 years, to people like Jean Marie Le Pen painting those immigrants as violent, uncontrollable, and who breed like rabbits.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that in 2004, the French state decided to ban the public use of the veil, much to the outcry of many Islamic and human rights group who saw the move as a gross encroachment on the rights of those women. The argument back then was that France, being a secular state, did not tolerate any signs of religiosity. The underlying tone, however, was that this secular state with an Christian undercurrent would not tolerate an apparent Islamization in its PR.

The rift between “immigrants” – French like everyone else but always viewed as lessers – and French continued to grow through the years, between attacks on Charlie Hebdo, to the terrorist attacks that overtook Paris and Nice, to the increasing rise of the Front National. Today, the clash of culture is taking place in a different way: French statesmen want to ban a conservative swimwear colloquially called the “Burkini” – a term merging both Burka and Bikini – in their attempt to preserve the semblance of the “liberated” image of France.

Introduced in Australia by a Muslim woman who tried to merge her religious and Australian lives, the piece of clothing soon became global. With the French bans, many people are purchasing them around the world in solidarity. The outcry against the French ban is deafening. The question of the matter, however, is why would such a ban be conceived in the first place?

This is a continuation of the French problem in trying to assimilate different parts of what makes France as it is into a modern identity that is holistic and inclusive. The French revolution slogan “equality, liberty, brotherhood” seems to only be applicable as long as you fit within the code of such a statement.

The ban is equal part Islamophobic and an attack on a woman’s freedom of expression. Would French police arrest a nun, for instance, who is wearing her religious clothing on a beach just because she is covered up? Would they arrest a swimmer clad in their sport clothes? Would they arrest any woman whose clothes attire conflicts with what they deem acceptable enough to fit within the narrowing, rather than broadening, confines of French culture of 2016?

Burkini - 2

The ban of the Burkini can be summarized as follows: men trying to impose a dress code on women who have already had a dress code enforced on them by men elsewhere who view their chastity as directly proportional to how much skin they cover up, never knowing that maybe, just maybe, the problem isn’t in the skin that is exposed or not, but rather in the minds that look at that skin in the first place.

Before Arabs and Muslims can be upset about France banning Burkinis, ins’t some introspection into what is happening in our own backyards warranted? How many of our cultures and countries coerce our women into covering every inch of them, whether they want to or not? How many of our cultures and countries treat women as second rate citizens just because they were not born men, limiting them with what those who were born men believe those women should be entitled for? How many of our cultures and countries have made women feel insecure just by walking down the streets with eyes that ravaged their bodies regardless of how covered up they were?

How many of our cultures and countries have stopped women from even going to the beach for fear of being viewed as nothing more than meat? How many of our cultures and countries have made wearing the hijab, and consequently items of clothing such as the burkini, as an indication of the woman wearing them – whether she wants to or not – essentially being a better person than the woman who decided not to? The fact of the matter is that women are more prone to be sexually harassed on our beaches, whether they were wearing a Burkini or a bikini, than in the beaches of France, even if they’re wearing nothing.

Tackling the abhorrent rise of Islamophobia in France cannot therefore occur without looking inside our own homes for once. Do we allow our women to wear whatever they want without conferring moral judgement on them for doing so? Do we give our women the freedoms that we believe they are being robbed of in France or elsewhere? Do we not pass judgement on those women who decide to go to the beach wearing a Bikini just because they felt like it, categorizing them as everything we believe women should not be?
The answer is no.

The resources France is putting into banning the Burkini are completely unnecessary. It’s a legislation that has become a farce: that of armed police officers assaulting decent women at the beach to strip them of their clothes. By coercing them out of a Burkini, the French state is doing to those women something that’s as bad as forcing them into one in the first place. It’s unfortunate that while standing as such a crossroads, France and the rest of Europe decide to make a U-turn rather than advance further into creating an environment where women can be free to choose whether they want to wear a Burkini or not. Instead, you have a bunch of men deciding they know, once more, what women want and what they should do. When ISIS tells Muslims they’re nothing but second class citizens in the West, one wonders, when does the West realize that its practices play right into ISIS’ hand?