A rather peculiar circumstance has come to my attention over the new generic top level domain (gTLD) process currently chugging along at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). As is so often the case with such things, it is at the same time both trivial and highly illustrative of the problem of dealing with a global medium where symbols have semantic meaning as well as functionality.
It also highlights the bind for the U.S. Government. Other governments are free to weigh in on behalf of various orgs and groups that petition them for help, if those governments so choose. The U.S., because if its relationship with ICANN, faces serious political problems if it weighs in with regard to TLD policy. This does not preclude the U.S. from acting if it wants (as folks who remember the .XXX controversy will recall). Nevertheless, for the U.S. to preserve the integrity of the process and avoid accusations of meddling, it needs to tread very cautiously before wading in on behalf of any specific TLD or objection.
All of which brings us to the current case. It involves the treatment of two proposed gTLDs, “.kosher” and “.halal.” They have similar meanings to their respective communities, and similar concerns arise from allowing their use. We can certainly say to both communities “sorry, but nothing requires you to respect the designation of the gTLD manager, so just learn to live with it.” Alternatively, we might say “these TLDs raise some questions that impact these communities disproportionately, lets deal with them differently than from regular applications.” But it would be hard to justify treating the terms differently from a principled standpoint. the objections to one apply equally to the other — or not.
There is, however, a rather important political difference: there are about ten to twenty times more people in the world who (potentially) care about .halal than care about .kosher. in fact, there are probably more people in the city of Cairo who would care if .halal were held by a Shia rather than a Sunni than there are people in the world who care if .kosher is held by someone who holds by chalav yisroel or not. (The vast majority of the world, of course, does not even know what the last sentence even means.)
Also, as discussed below, while certain governments have voiced objections in the ICANN Government Advisory Committee (GAC) have voiced objections to the .halal TLD, no one has for .kosher. (Israel does not participate in the GAC, for those who jumped to the next logical question.) This has prompted the kosher organizations objecting to the .kosher TLD application to send letters to Commerce Secretary Pritzker, as well as ICANN Chair Fadi Chehade asking for reassurance that .kosher and .halal will be treated the same. While there is no indication that they won’t, we Jews do not take equal treatment for granted (it’s a history thing, got an hour for me to explain it? No? So trust me on this . . .) As noted above, this potentially puts the U.S. in something of a bind.
Which brings me to the peculiar story of .kosher and the question of whether it will or will not be treated like .halal. Because whatever the actual outcome, it would be nice to think that the two communities will be treated with equal fairness regardless of size or political clout. I mean, no one really expects it, but it would be nice.
More below . . . .