Icann and Non-Latin Scripts05.18.10

The May 6 2010 BBC newsline reported that for the first time, “Net regulator Icann has switched on a system that allows full web addresses that contain no Latin characters.” Since more than half of all web users work with a non-Latin script, this is huge.

Some see this as a harbinger of doom, a sure and certain sign that the end times are coming. Isn’t this the modern day Tower of Babel? What more obvious evidence is needed for the arrogance of humans than building a total system of information exchange which seems to render divinity irrelevant and mystery passé? If we can answer all questions ourselves by typing a few phrases into our browser, what need do we have of God?

Some perhaps shudder at the implied decline of English as the lingua franca for business, religion, science, and the arts. The hegemony of the West seems threatened, and after all, aren’t we the place God has chosen to display his goodness? If Arabic gains ascendancy in the online world, what other things come with it? Won’t terrorists have an easier time disseminating their propaganda, poisoning our minds? Won’t the angry recruit to al Qaida find it easier to get and use information to our hurt?

In our increasingly postmodern world, the above arguments may sound familiar only to those over fifty, or those raised in a homogenous community somewhat distant from the changes around. For many, it is a non-issue, but for some, this erosion of the world we know is scary.

Recently an image has come into my mind when thinking about this definitive break with the norm.  There is a widely circulated story about a statue of Jesus found in a bombed-out church in Europe during World War II. (The city is alternately cited as Berlin and London, but facts are hard to find.) Missing its hands, all that remained was the earnest entreating face and body of Jesus. This image, paired with the words of Terese of Liseux,  was used many times in sermons to encourage Christians to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to go and do what Jesus would do in a devastated world. This image and the story that goes along with it embody a change from triumphalism to servanthood, from colonialism to conscious and sensitive engagement on another’s terms.

When a statue of a venerated entity is damaged, many emotions flood in: Disbelief, anger, possible hatred toward the perpetrator, sadness, or even an occasional muttering under one’s breath, “How could God allow this?” We know that the statue is not the entity itself, and may not even be a very good representation of it, but still we are shocked. We know that the entity (especially if it is Deity) is not damaged though a representation of it was. Yet still we are shocked, angry, possibly shaken in our faith.

Perhaps if we find ourselves shocked that non-Latin scripts have received full status in the online world, we need to ask ourselves what statue is being damaged, and was it even a very accurate representation of what we worship in the first place?

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Posted by Andrea Johnson under culture.

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