New York: clashes over Islamic centre near Ground Zero

Opponents say an Islamic and interfaith centre aimed at promoting tolerance will be a “monument to t

In New York on Tuesday night, a landmarks preservation panel heard heated arguments over the construction of a Islamic community centre near the former site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

Opponents say constructing the centre close to Ground Zero is insensitive to those who lost family members on 9/11.

The centre will feature Islamic, interfaith and secular programmes and will house a gym, a swimming pool and a performing arts centre. It is being sponsored in part by the Cordoba Initiative, which seeks to improve relations between western and Muslim cultures.

One opponent at the meeting called the building a "monument to terrorism". Of course, not everyone in the US agrees with that individual, but it is clear that such an improvement in relations is sorely needed. Not only is the project very far from fulfilling this description, but opposing the building could even be seen as un-American.

First of all, the centre would be built two blocks away from Ground Zero, not on the site. Second, the centre is not a mosque, but a building meant to serve a broader community and promote tolerance, which would also happen include prayer space for Islamic members. I like my monuments to terrorism to have swimming pools for certain, or else I won't go to visit them.

A recent survey about the French burqa ban showed that, while Europeans tend to support the ban, Americans disagree with the idea, with only 28 per cent backing it. This might well be because Americans tend to place a very high value on personal freedom and the right to religious expression.

I would hope that, regardless of location, the planning commission will see that free enterprise and the American tradition of separating church and state trump the concerns of an intolerant few.

Agreeing with the construction will send the message that Americans do not believe all Muslims are terrorists. Calling the centre a "monument to terrorism" solely on the basis that it will include Muslim prayer rooms among its other facilities might, at the very least, give off this impression.

The New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio called for a delay in the process so that the funding could be investigated.

Wait. We're talking about America, right? Is the US government going to spend taxpayers' dollars looking into every religious centre committing the crime of calling for better relations?

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A global marketplace: the internet represents exporting’s biggest opportunity

The advent of the internet age has made the whole world a single marketplace. Selling goods online through digital means offers British businesses huge opportunities for international growth. The UK was one of the earliest adopters of online retail platforms, and UK online sales revenues are growing at around 20 per cent each year, not just driving wider economic growth, but promoting the British brand to an enthusiastic audience.

Global e-commerce turnover grew at a similar rate in 2014-15 to over $2.2trln. The Asia-Pacific region, for example, is embracing e-marketplaces with 28 per cent growth in 2015 to over $1trln of sales. This demonstrates the massive opportunities for UK exporters to sell their goods more easily to the world’s largest consumer markets. My department, the Department for International Trade, is committed to being a leader in promoting these opportunities. We are supporting UK businesses in identifying these markets, and are providing access to services and support to exploit this dramatic growth in digital commerce.

With the UK leading innovation, it is one of the responsibilities of government to demonstrate just what can be done. My department is investing more in digital services to reach and support many more businesses, and last November we launched our new digital trade hub: www.great.gov.uk. Working with partners such as Lloyds Banking Group, the new site will make it easier for UK businesses to access overseas business opportunities and to take those first steps to exporting.

The ‘Selling Online Overseas Tool’ within the hub was launched in collaboration with 37 e-marketplaces including Amazon and Rakuten, who collectively represent over 2bn online consumers across the globe. The first government service of its kind, the tool allows UK exporters to apply to some of the world’s leading overseas e-marketplaces in order to sell their products to customers they otherwise would not have reached. Companies can also access thousands of pounds’ worth of discounts, including waived commission and special marketing packages, created exclusively for Department for International Trade clients and the e-exporting programme team plans to deliver additional online promotions with some of the world’s leading e-marketplaces across priority markets.

We are also working with over 50 private sector partners to promote our Exporting is GREAT campaign, and to support the development and launch of our digital trade platform. The government’s Exporting is GREAT campaign is targeting potential partners across the world as our export trade hub launches in key international markets to open direct export opportunities for UK businesses. Overseas buyers will now be able to access our new ‘Find a Supplier’ service on the website which will match them with exporters across the UK who have created profiles and will be able to meet their needs.

With Lloyds in particular we are pleased that our partnership last year helped over 6,000 UK businesses to start trading overseas, and are proud of our association with the International Trade Portal. Digital marketplaces have revolutionised retail in the UK, and are now connecting consumers across the world. UK businesses need to seize this opportunity to offer their products to potentially billions of buyers and we, along with partners like Lloyds, will do all we can to help them do just that.

Taken from the New Statesman roundtable supplement Going Digital, Going Global: How digital skills can help any business trade internationally

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