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Will ICANN be forced to reject Islamic gTLDs?

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2013, 12:39:51 (UTC), Domain Policy

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has condemned applications for .islam and .halal gTLDs filed by a Turkish company, despite the applicant recently fighting off an OIC-backed objection.

Claiming to represent the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, the OIC expressed in a November 4 letter to ICANN and its Governmental Advisory Committee:

official opposition of the Member States of the OIC towards probable authorization by the GAC allowing use of these new gTLDs .Islam and .Halal by any entity not representing the collective voice of the Muslim people.

The letter seems to have been sent in response to the GAC’s current stalemate on these two TLDs, which were applied for, uncontested, by Istanbul-based Asia Green IT System.

At the ICANN meeting in Beijing six months ago, the GAC was unable to reach a consensus to object to .islam and .halal, instead merely noting:

Some GAC members have raised sensitivities on the applications that relate to Islamic terms, specifically .islam and .halal. The GAC members concerned have noted that the applications for .islam and .halal lack community involvement and support. It is the view of these GAC members that these applications should not proceed.

As a non-consensus objection, there’s no presumption that the ICANN board of directors should reject the applications.

And it seems that the New gTLD Program Committee, which carries board powers, has been deliberately ignoring the controversy pending the resolution of two formal Community Objections.

The objections were filed by the United Arab Emirates’ Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, the UAE’s ccTLD registry operator, with backing (it claimed) from the OIC.

But the TRA lost both objections, partly because the wishy-washy government-speak OIC letter it submitted in evidence failed to convince International Chamber of Commerce adjudicator Bernardo Cremades that it really did have that OIC support.

Whether the OIC really does object to Asia Green’s bids now seems beyond dispute.

In fact, the organization says it intends to pass a formal resolution containing its position on Islamic gTLDs during its Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in early December.

ICANN chair Steve Crocker has now asked the GAC to provide further guidance before it decides whether to accept or reject the two bids.

Given that a single governmental hold-out in the GAC would be enough to kill any chance of consensus, the OIC may be right to presuppose that the GAC will not fully object.

That would leave ICANN in the tricky position, for the first time in this application round, of having to decide the fate of a gTLD without the cover of a uniform international objection.

Would it reject .islam, opening the door for other gTLDs to be killed off by minority government concerns? Or would it approve the controversial strings, potentially pissing off the Muslim world?

I expect there’s at least one NGPC member — Lebanese-born Christian ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade — who would certainly not relish having to cast a vote on such a resolution.

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