It is interesting to contemplate how Arabs and Muslims around the world today are harnessing the power of the Internet (and have the potential to embrace it even further.) They are contributing to their culture and civilization, propagating their thoughts, communicating with each other in effective ways, and are reaching out to other nations, cultures and religions.
These capabilities were made possible to a large part by companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo and Google, and by the U.S. military which first developed the Internet.
Did these companies and institutions know how much they were going to benefit world cultures? If so, how did they feel about it? Are they pleased or unpleased by the cultural revolutions that have happened around the world?
Conspiracy theorists - who are quite rampant among Arabs and Muslims - would love to believe that the entire West, with all of its institutions, operates with a unified agenda which aims to oppress them. If that is the case, why would these companies allow Arabs and Muslims to harness technologies to advance their culture?
Many of these companies have yet to make a profit on the services that they have provided to diverse populations around the world, but they offer access to new technologies regardless in hopes to strengthen their stand in future markets and also to maintain their credibility and integrity as inclusive content providers.
Do technology companies have cultural, religious and political agendas? Are they working in collaboration with political institutions that have imperialistic agendas?
Although the ultimate goal of companies is to expand and make a profit, they are finding that promoting and respecting world languages, religions and cultures is in their corporate interest.
Microsoft contributed to the promotion and even the revival of world cultures; what was its motive? When opening the Windows local language settings you will find dozens of other languages and dialects.
I remember the ‘90s when only English was supported well in Web browsers. Also, Windows did not have multi-language support. In order to read or type in Arabic, you needed a localized Windows version. Arabs were forced to communicate with each other in English or French.
Now any Windows version supports virtually all languages and any browser can read any language on the Internet. Microsoft could have chosen to restrict multi-language support, so that only an Arabic version of Windows could read and write Arabic.
Microsoft now provides local language settings not only for Arabic in general, but for two dozen Arab countries, just in case there might be certain words that are spelled or used differently.
What about Google, another international technology giant? It has localized its services so that they can be available in nearly 130 languages and dialects. When I look through the list I find languages that I never heard of before. Why has Google provided this for people around the world? It is a for-profit company that wants to expand and earn income for its shareholders. But Google knows that giving consumers what they want and need is the way to do it.
Is there a political, cultural or religious agenda beyond that mission?
Google has a translation service that translates to and from 51 different languages. You can translate a section of text, a Web page, email messages, documents, blogs, etc. The translated versions are rough, as all machine translation is, but it gives people a gist into content they would otherwise know nothing about.
Let's remember that the Internet itself was begun by the U.S. military as a data communications network.
The Unicode Consortium went out of its way to make sure that languages such as Arabic, Tamil and Devanagari, are all fully represented in Unicode. Unicode even converts the name Allah in Arabic to a decorative style.
The Global Positioning System (GPS) was also developed by the U.S. armed forces. In 1996, GPS became available for civilian users. The GPS device I have speaks in Arabic and can be used anywhere in the world.
Why would the U.S. military allow other nations to make use of the GPS system?
The conspiracy theories began again last month when news emerged that Yahoo made a deal to buy the biggest Arabic Web content provider Maktoob.
It is understandable that humans by nature are territorial and suspicious of strangers. This is embedded in our genes and is especially true for people who have had recent trauma with invaders.
But this should not lead us to be delusional. Economic expansion does not necessarily lead to exploitation. In the case of technology companies, the proliferation of products and services is leading to the empowerment of cultures around the world.