Dubai goes shopping -- for Barneys

Has globalization gone too far? Denied a foothold in the American ports business, Dubai grabs for a retail jewel.

By Andrew Leonard

Published June 14, 2007 3:55PM (EDT)

Thwarted in its attempt to operate shipping ports in the U.S., the government of Dubai has set its sights on a target even more critical to the safekeeping of American well-being: the luxury clothing retailer Barneys. News outlets are reporting that Istithmar, an investment firm that is a subsidiary of the same government-financed Dubai holding company that owns Dubai Ports World, is close to finalizing a deal that would purchase Barneys from its current owner, Jones Apparel Group Inc., for $900 million.

The prospect of Madison Avenue window displays featuring burqa-clad mannequins immediately distracted U.S. politicians from their current effort to punish China for not valuing its currency according to Washington's desires. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D.-N.Y., was rumored to declare, "Enough is enough -- New Yorkers should feel confident that when they buy a Prada handbag on E. 61st Street, they are not contributing to the insecurity of American borders." (Strangely, the Congressional Quarterly failed to record his outburst.)

Some observers found the spectacle of an investment company (Istithmar is Arabic for "investment") buying a luxury clothing retail chain to be an unexceptional example of globalization 101. Istithmar's CEO, David Jackson, is an American who worked for nine years on mergers and acquisitions business at Lehman Bothers before moving to the Persian Gulf. But others, after reviewing Istithmar's suspiciously slick Web site and learning that one of the company's favored slogans is "Good ideas flow. Great ideas erupt" were less sanguine. What better way to cause havoc in the world's No. 1 financial center than by having a volcano erupt on the Upper East Side of Manhattan?

The most vociferous criticism of the proposed deal came not from Washington, but from guardians of the faith throughout the Arab world. One outraged mullah was heard to exclaim: "The wearing of Manolos is expressly forbidden in the Quran." He immediately issued a fatwa banning all Muslims from setting foot in the stores.

A spokesman for Istithmar scoffed at the declaration of jihad.

"If Allah hadn't intended for Arabs to waste their money on absurdly high-priced fashion accessories, he would never have blessed our lands with oil."

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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