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Wednesday 4 August 2010

Coat Factory Becomes Controversial

The former Burlington Coat Factory, at Park Place in downtown Manhattan, is to be demolished and redeveloped. This does not sound particularly threatening or divisive. The building that will rise in its place will be a cultural centre called Cordoba House. This, too, does not sound alarm bells, until words like Islamic and Mosque are pitched.

Moreover, Park Place is not far from the site of the former World Trade Center, although you cannot see what is now called Ground Zero from number 45. But the very proximity of an Islamic cultural centre has set the usual suspects off: Sarah Palin – merely a pundit right now – has called the building “an intolerable mistake on hallowed ground”, thus demonstrating her grasp of local geography.

Newt Gingrich – also a mere pundit right now – has ratcheted up the rhetoric by calling the centre “an act of triumphalism”. So what will this “mosque” look like? Well, there won’t be a minaret and any calling to prayer: it’s just a new build 13 storey block, like many others around central New York.

And Mayor Michael Bloomberg – he’s a Republican – has dismissed criticism of the scheme, saying that this is an issue of religious freedom. He says that the Government should not be in the business of choosing one religion over another, which follows logically from the separation of church and state enshrined in the US Constitution.

The use of the name “Cordoba” has also riled some, but it is hard to see why: the great mosque of Cordoba was built on the site of a Christian church, but then became a Christian cathedral. Cordoba House will not be replacing a Christian place of worship.

But these are mere facts: there will still be some who will not want them to get in the way.

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