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ICANN blocks .islam after government veto

Kevin Murphy, October 8, 2018, Domain Policy

After six years, ICANN has finally killed off the applications for the new gTLDs .islam and .halal, due to objections from several governments.

It has also rejected the application for .persiangulf from the same applicant.

The decisions were made by the ICANN board of directors last Wednesday. The resolutions were published Friday night.

The board said: “it is apparent that the vast majority of the Muslim community (more than 1.6 billion members) object to the applications for .HALAL and .ISLAM.”

This actually means that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the 57-nation treaty group with a combined 1.6 billion nominal Muslim citizens, objected to the applications.

Several governments with large Muslim populations — including the UAE, Malaysia, Turkey, India and Iran — had also individually told ICANN on the record that they were not happy.

The view from these governments seemed to be that if there’s going to be a .islam, it should be run under the umbrella of a group such as the OIC, rather than some random tuppenny ha’penny gTLD registry.

In Christianity, the comparable gTLD .catholic is run by an affiliate of the world’s oldest pedophile ring, while .bible is being run as a propaganda tool by a group of sexually repressed, homophobic American evangelicals.

The ICANN board said its decision to reject .islam and .halal was in tune with its “core values” to protect the “public interest”.

The decision was based “on its consideration of and commitment to ICANN’s Mission and core values set forth in the Bylaws, including ensuring that this decision is in the best interest of the Internet community and that it respects the concerns raised by the majority of the community most impacted by the proposed .HALAL and .ISLAM gTLDs”.

It’s been avoiding making this decision since at least December 2013.

But it has now voted that the two applications “should not proceed”. It does not appear to have banned organizations from applying for the strings in subsequent application rounds.

The applicant for .islam and .halal was Turkey-based Asia Green IT System. It applications have been “on-hold” since the GAC issued non-consensus advice against them back in April 2013.

The OIC filed Community Objections against both gTLDs with the International Chamber of Commerce, but failed on both counts.

Having failed to see any progress, in December 2015, AGIT filed an Independent Review Process appeal against its treatment by ICANN, and won.

The November 2017 IRP decision held that the “on-hold” status was a “new policy”, unilaterally put in place by ICANN Org, that unfairly condemned AGIT’s applications to indefinite limbo.

The panel ordered ICANN to make its damn mind up one way or the other and pay about $270,000 in costs.

While rejecting the applications may not seem unreasonable, it’s an important example of a minority group of governments getting an essential veto over a gTLD.

Under the rules of the 2012 application round, consensus GAC advice against an application is enough to kill it stone dead.

But the GAC had merely said (pdf):

The GAC recognizes that Religious terms are sensitive issues. 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.

That’s non-consensus advice, which is expected to initiate bilateral engagement with ICANN’s board before a decision is made.

In the case of .persiangulf, also applied for by AGIT and also now rejected, the GAC didn’t even give non-consensus advice.

In fact, in its July 2013 Durban communique (pdf) is explicitly stated it “does not object to them proceeding”.

This appears to have been a not atypical GAC screw-up. The minutes of the Durban meeting, published months later, showed that the Gulf Cooperation Council states had in fact objected — there’s a bit of a dispute in that part of the world about whether it’s the “Persian Gulf” or “Arabian Gulf” — so the GAC would have been within its rights to publish non-consensus advice.

This all came out when the GCC filed its own IRP against ICANN, which it won.

The IRP panel in that case ordered ICANN to outright reject .persiangulf. Two years later, it now has.

While the three gTLDs in question are now going into “Will Not Proceed” status, that may not be the end of the story. One “Will Not Proceed” applicant, DotConnectAfrica, has taken ICANN to court in the US over its .africa application.

Muslim world still thinks .islam isn’t kosher

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2018, Domain Policy

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has repeated its objection to the gTLDs .islam and .halal ever seeing the light of day.

OIC Secretary General Yousef Al-Othaimeen wrote to ICANN earlier this month to declare that its position on the two controversial applications has not changed since it initially objected to them in 2013.

The OIC comprises the foreign ministers from 57 majority-Muslim countries and these ministers recently voted unanimously to re-adopt the 2013 objection, Al-Othaimeen said (pdf).

The group “maintain the position that the new gTLDs with Islamic identity are extremely sensitive in nature as they concern the entire Muslim nature” he wrote.

He reiterated “official opposition of the OIC Member states towards the probable authorization that might allow the use of these gTLDs .islam and .halal by any entity.”

This puts ICANN between a rock an a hard place.

The applicant for both strings, Turkish outfit Asia-Green IT Systems (AGIT), won an Independent Review Process case against ICANN last November.

The IRP panel ruled that ICANN broke its own bylaws when it placed .islam and .halal into permanent limbo — an “On Hold” status pending withdrawal of the applications or OIC approval — in 2014.

ICANN’s board accepted the ruling and bounced the decision on whether to finally approve or reject the bids to its Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee, which is currently mulling over the problem.

Technically, it’s “non-consensus Governmental Advisory Committee advice”, which means the board has some wriggle room to simply accept the advice and reject the applications.

But AGIT’s lawyer disagrees, recently telling ICANN (pdf) its options are to approve the bids or facilitate dialogue towards their approval, rather like ICANN is doing with .amazon right now.

Applicant says .islam ban would damage ICANN

Kevin Murphy, December 23, 2013, Domain Policy

If ICANN decides to reject Asia Green IT’s applications for .islam and .halal it would “be dealing a blow to the new gTLD program’s credibility”, according to AGIT.

The two potential new gTLDs are currently in limbo, awaiting a decision by the ICANN’s board of directors’ New gTLD Program Committee, following stalemate within the Governmental Advisory Committee.

The Organization for Islamic Cooperation has objected to the applications, saying it represents 1.6 billion Muslims and that it’s “concerned” about the potential “misuse” of the names.

Mehdi Abbasnia, managing director of the Turkey-based company, recently wrote to ICANN too (pdf) to ask that ICANN speedily approve its applications, given that two formal OIC-backed Community Objections have already failed.

Abbasnia also wrote to DI on Friday (pdf) to reiterate many of the same points.

The two gTLDs are among only a handful originating it the Muslim world, he said, and the idea is to spur adoption of domain names among all Muslims.

Muslim communities the world over have a lot to gain from seeing their members empowered through namespaces that are better suited to their specific needs, easier for them to relate to and use and respectful of their culture and laws.

As Muslims ourselves, this is what we felt we could bring to our community when we first heard of the new gTLD program: our expertise as a technical enabler of TLDs by Muslims, for Muslims. We are looking to fuel the engine, not drive the car.

He added that AGIT prevailed in the objections filed against it, and the GAC failed to reach a consensus to object.

Some in ICANN circles have used the phrase “taking a second bite at the apple” to characterize attempts to overturn decisions and derail processes. In the case of our applications for .Halal and .Islam, the apple’s been eaten to the core!

The ball is now in the ICANN Board’s court. If it bows to the OIC’s pressure and blocks our TLD applications, not only will Muslims the world over be prevented from claiming their very own space on the Internet, but I believe it will also be dealing a blow to the new gTLD program’s credibility, and to the credibility of ICANN as a multi-stakeholder governance organization.

While I have no opinion on whether the two applications should be approved or not, I disagree with the apple metaphor.

AGIT is in receipt of formal “GAC Advice on New gTLDs” explaining a non-consensus objection. That’s clearly envisaged by the Applicant Guidebook, and there a process for dealing with it: ICANN’s board talks to the GAC to understand the extent of its members’ concerns and then explains itself after it makes a decision one way or the other.

There doesn’t seem to be an abuse of process by the OIC or GAC here, just a very tricky question for the ICANN board to answer.