The Burlington Coat Factory opened its doors in 1924, wholesaling ladies coats. The founders cannot have imagined that they would one day be the centre of a world wide controversy.
They built their factory in Park Place, New York, then the centre of the garment industry in SoHo.
Several decades later the building was surrounded by nail bars, an off-track betting office, fast food restaurants, and had become surplus to their requirements.
Although the building was a full two blocks away from the Twin Towers it had suffered damage during the obscene attack of 9/11.
A series of sales resulted in it being bought for redevelopment by the SoHo development company for $4.85 million. So far, so boring.
New York has many ‘community centres’ – the Jewish Community Centre alone has an operating budget of more than £20 million, and the 92nd Street ‘Y’, a Hebrew Association, makes over $50 million a year from membership and subscriptions. The SoHo development company had their eye on profits like these.
They planned to turn the old coat Factory into a gym, with a swimming pool, restaurants, a 9/11 memorial, and a room in which the clients could pray.
They own around 400,000 square feet of real estate in New York, and have been happily developing them for years without coming to public attention.
This time they came to world wide attention.
For you see, the owner of SoHo properties is a Muslim – Sharif El-Gamal, and the clients he had in mind for his centre, were, like him, also Muslim. Other faith groups in the area were already well catered for, and he saw a new market emerging – the local Muslim community. Many of whom had suffered themselves in 9/11.
Cue utter hysteria. The old Burlington Coat Factory suffered a geographical transformation in the media – it moved from ‘two blocks away’ from the Twin Towers, to ‘walking distance’ to ‘within spitting distance’ finally coming to rest at ‘Ground Zero’ itself.
In the process, the plans for the redevelopment of the entire building got lost, and Park51 had only one named intention – a Mosque. The now infamous ‘Ground Zero Mosque’.
It mattered not to the Facebook crowd who were being whipped up into apoplectic rage that it was not actually at Ground Zero, nor that it was an entire development, nor that the disaster of 9/11 had rained down on the heads of all who lived in the area, regardless of their manner of worship.
Robert Spencer – a Roman Catholic who runs the ‘Jihad Watch’ web site, described as a ‘rolling cauldron of stories illustrating the treachery and violence of Muslims’, and Pamela Geller who runs ‘Atlas Shrugged’, joined forces and formed the ‘Stop Islamisation of America’ which campaigned by showing pictures of planes flying into the Twin Towers on one side of a bus, and the proposed Community Centre on the other side.
The campaign gathered force; they were joined by the English Defence League, a controversial far right organisation. In no time at all, such is the power of social media, half the world was convinced that triumphal Muslims, probably put up to it by Bin Laden himself, were planning to build a mosque where they could glorify and worship the Jihadists who had killed some 3,000 Americans
Can anybody give me solid facts and figures concerning the racial origin and religious beliefs of all those killed on 9/11? I find it hard to believe that they all held US passports, and none practiced Islam. Life and Death is more random than that. Especially in a building calling itself the World Trade Centre.
I digress; after every Republican politician, including all those who harbour the belief that Obama himself may be a closet Muslim; a clutch of wealthy pop stars – those well known political pundits, and every religious leader from here to Shanghai had pontificated on the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’, it was time for the little people to get in on the act.
So it was that a retired hotel manager, the Rev Terry Jones, pastor to some 50 people in deepest Florida offered to light his barbeque with a single copy of the Koran to thwart this development.
The media were delighted – a full scale punch up loomed.
Such is the received wisdom of the pious world at large, courtesy of the media, that we are now told that this amounts to a stand off between the forces of Islam and Christianity.
Overnight the ‘stand off’ has stood down.
The Rev. Terry Jones triumphantly claims to have the agreement of Sharif El-Gamal that he won’t build a mosque at Ground Zero – an agreement that was not hard to extract, given that he never intended to do so.
By the week-end, I fully expect to find the papers full of pictures of a victorious retired hotel manager being carried shoulder high through jubilant crowds convinced that they have managed to force the demon Mosque a full two blocks away from their hallowed Ground Zero.
You see, six days ago, unheeded by the tabloids, New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted by a decisive 9 to 0 against putting any more hurdles in front of SoHo development’s plans to build a 15 story community centre with a 500 seat auditorium, swimming pool, gym, and a room where its members can pray…..exactly where it always intended to build it.
I’ll get me Burlington Coat……