See, Brunei? When you do clownery, the Clooney comes back to bite
The Sultan of Brunei says his decision to punish homosexuality with death was probably a bad idea
In an age when it often seems that in spite of public displays of outrage at the policies of insane leaders shows of disaffection do little to change things, there was good news and affirmation of the power of protest in an announcement made by the very rich head of a very small country in the corner of the island of Borneo this week.
That’s because after a month of very visible protests endorsed by celebrities and big business, the sultan of the oil-rich tiny country of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, has made a surprising statement. The once-richest man in the world announced that his earlier decision to punish those found guilty of homosexuality, adultery or rape by sentencing them to death by stoning, in accordance with Sharia law, was probably a bad idea.
That’s not because the ruler of one the world’s smallest and wealthiest countries has any sympathy for the LGBTQ community, but rather because he’s had to bend to stringent and hard-hitting economic and public pressure that has seen a rare melding of the interests of the LGBTQ community, the UN, major international banks and celebrities including George Clooney, Sir Elton John and Ellen DeGeneres.
Bolkiah is the owner of several world-renowned luxury hotels including the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles and the Dorchester in London, both of which have been the targets of highly publicised and unwelcome negative attention and protests over the last month.
Major American banks such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Bank of America banned their employees from staying at any of the sultan’s hotels, while in the UK tourism ads promoting Brunei as a destination were taken down in protest.
While many have welcomed the sultan’s announcement last Sunday to reconsider his decision, arguing the almost immediate international condemnation was due to “misapprehensions that may have caused apprehension”, and that these will soon be cleared up so that everyone can understand “the merits of the law”, activists have warned that this does not mean the LGBTQ people in Brunei are out of the woods just yet.
Clooney said until there was equal treatment for people of all sexual preferences and identification in Brunei, he would continue to boycott the sultan’s hotels, and encouraged others to follow suit.
In the meantime, there may be some heart to be had in the fact that the protests represent a unique allying of interests and speed of action in the struggle for LGBTQ rights and the fight against conservative Islam.
As Ani Zonneveld, president and founder of Los Angeles-based Muslims for Progressive Values told Forbes.com: “It’s remarkable, frankly, how quickly it happened. It just shows how an economic sanction and campaign can affect decision-makers.”