Friday, March 9, 2007

Two Dalai Lamas walk into a bar....

Of course, it's an absurd premise. That more than one person could be alive as the reincarnation of Avalokitesvara.

You can be forgiven for thinking the same about Mecca, that there could be more than one. That is about to change however with plans underway for the massive Abraj al Bait Mall. In an interesting development the two will literally stare each other down, a duel of faiths if you like, or followings at the very least.

There is something absurd about hundreds of thousands of pilgrims making their way to Kaaba clad in simple cotton robes only to be confronted with a cathedral to consumerism containing culturally insensitive brands as Topshop, H&M, Starbucks, Cartier and Tiffany. The complex will also contain a lingerie shop and an amusement park.

“Mecca is becoming like Las Vegas, and that is a disaster,” said Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, a Saudi opposition research organization. “It will have a disastrous effect on Muslims because going to Mecca will have no feeling. There is no charm anymore. All you see is glass and cement.” It's not hard to understand why.

People want choice. People deserve the freedom to buy products from many categories, without excessive restriction from a government. But it is the culturally insensitivity of where such goods are being sold that is at issue here.

Starbucks is another example of a brand which egregious disregard for local culture. They have placed a store INSIDE the Forbidden City. This is not unthinkable because someone went beyond having the idea to execute it.

Companies and their brands have a obligation to perform to higher standards in the face of their consumerist imperialist ambition. They should respect indigenous cultures not disregard them in their relentless pursuit global brand development.

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