In Saudi Arabia, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice maintains a strict moral code on the population. Women are prevented from driving. Men are required to behave in a proper Muslim manner free of alcohol and other dietary prohibitions. Those who disobey Islamic dress codes face arrest or a beating. Banned Western consumer goods might be confiscated. Stores that fail to close during prayer times might be cited. Unrelated males and females are prevented from socializing. And don’t even think about proselytizing for another religion, which is also banned.
These are just some of the tasks of the humorless Saudi morality police. They keep Saudi Arabia on a tight moral leash and firmly embedded in the tenth century. Now it seems that the Saudis want to bring their moralizing to the rest of the world.
ICANN, the international organization in charge of maintaining domain names for the Internet, is proposing some new domain name extensions. With the Internet’s seemingly unstoppable growth, ICANN has increasingly created new domain addresses for interest groups instead of places. Domain addresses that end with .info or .org have been around for a while. Together with .com and place-oriented names such as .uk, .ru or .ca, there are about 280 top-level domain names. Of those 280, only about 22 are generic like the .info or .org. In order to give internet users greater choice and increase competition, ICANN is preparing to release many more extensions.
ICANN began a process to evaluate new names and received 1,930 requests. Only a few of these are going to be accepted. As ICANN tries to pick out the names that will be used, it is inviting comments.
That brought Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Communication and Information Technology Commission to respond with 160 comments. In general, what the Saudis feel is good for Saudi Arabia then must be good for the world.
The Saudi’s have come out against the proposed .gay extension because “Many societies and cultures consider homosexuality to be contrary to their culture, morality or religion. The creation of a gTLD string which promotes homosexuality will be offensive to these societies and cultures. We respectfully request that ICANN refuse the application for this gTLD.”
Never mind that the Saudis could just block .gay from being available to their nation. They want the entire world to be without it because it is offensive to them. The Saudis already block gay sites from being available in their territory so their opposition is not surprising.
The proposal for .gay is not to create an upper-level domain to promote homosexuality, gay dating or wild same-sex parties. The purpose is to offer support for people facing difficulty with being gay in their cultures or those who have difficulty accepting their sexuality. In other words, it is primarily for the people that the Saudis make life a hell.
If it was just .gay that the Saudis were opposing, then it could be written off as part of their extreme fundamentalist religious views. However, that is not all the Saudis are concerned about. From the BBC, here are a few of the other names that the Saudis have a problem:
- .sex on the grounds it would increase the proliferation of pornographic material on the web.
- .virgin, .sucks, .dating and .baby because they might also be used by pornographic sites.
- .tattoo because the practice is contrary to religions “such as Islam and Judaism”.
- .wine and .vodka since they could glamourise the consumption of alcohol.
- .africamagic because it “implies that it is linked to black magic and this is considered offensive”.
The .baby domain is particularly interesting since one of the promoters for it is Johnson & Johnson, one of the world’s leaders in baby products. The Saudi government must really be getting paranoid if they are afraid that Johnson’s Baby Shampoo is really just a front to promote pornography.
A look at this list gives an indication at just how little individual choice and liberty the Saudis want people to have. No tattoos, no sex, no alcohol — even dating is a forbidden act in their minds.
Then there is .catholic as proposed by the Catholic Church. It would seem that the Saudis would not have a problem with this since it is not their religion. That is not the case. Apparently the Saudis see themselves as the guardians of Catholicism as the Telegraph explains:
“Many other Christians use the term ‘Catholic’ to refer more broadly to the whole Christian Church regardless of denominational affiliation,” the Saudi Communication and Information Technology Commission said in its complaint.
“Other Christian communions lay claim to the term “Catholic” such as the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Church.”
“Therefore, we respectfully request that ICANN not award this.”
It is the Vatican that is promoting .catholic. If the Eastern or Oriental Orthodox Churches disagree with the Vatican controlling that domain string, they should be listened to. Yet the Saudis, who will not even allow a Catholic to proselytize in their country, have the idea that their opinion is worth more than the Pope’s on this subject.
It is increasingly clear that the Internet is becoming the center of a cultural war being played throughout the world. This is only the beginning. A global economy has forced diametrically opposed lifestyles to face each other. Increasingly, that is leading to a world where political decisions are being made on a global scale as well. ICANN is just one of those forums. The UN is another and more will follow. Unfortunately, there are plenty of governments like Saudi Arabia that think the way they live is best for the world — individual choice be damned.