Ian O’Doherty: ‘Boycott Brunei all you like, but they’re not the only ones…’

Activists: LGBTQ+ protesters outside the Dorchester Hotel in London
Activists: LGBTQ+ protesters outside the Dorchester Hotel in London

I had been planning on whisking herself to London for a surprise stay in the Dorchester Hotel, ideally in the Eisenhower Suite.

Sure, it’s £1,246 a night, but just think of the history!

And what about their famous afternoon tea, a snip at a mere £85 a pop?

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But I abandoned plans to stay there as soon as George Clooney and Elton John told everyone to boycott the place because the owner, the Sultan of Brunei, has just introduced the death penalty for being gay or insulting their prophet.

Because they’re celebrities, and therefore smarter than us mere mortals, I immediately obeyed their commands. As did the dozens of LGBTQ+ protesters who gathered outside the building the other day, where the blue-haired activists shouted at the blue-rinse dowagers who like to patronise the illustrious hotel.

I doubt many of the protesters had ever darkened the Dorchester’s doors, but there’s no doubt that they are right to be disgusted by the policies introduced by the owner.

To put those policies into the grimmest of perspectives, they plan to kick it old school with their mode of execution – they’re going back to the classics by stoning gays, blasphemers and adulterers to death. They’ve even issued rules on the size of the stones to be used – nothing too large in case it dispatches the victim too quickly.

For once, I applaud those people calling for a boycott and I have tremendous admiration for the organiser, Peter Tatchell, a man who has repeatedly put his life on the line to defend gay rights. You might not always agree with his tactics, but it’s hard to argue with his courage.

My only quibble is this – what took them all so long, and why is Brunei the only country to be centre of attention?

Sure, the rules have only been introduced as a sop to the hard-line Muslims in the tiny country, and it is good, I suppose, that numerous celebrities have hopped on the bandwagon.

But that is all it is – a bandwagon.

Deutsche Bank and estate agents Knight Frank have banned their staff from staying there. STA Travel will no longer sell flights on behalf of Royal Brunei Airlines and Virgin have ceased all business relationships with the country. Again, that is all good news. I think, if nothing else, we can all agree that stoning people to death is a very bad thing, indeed, and shouldn’t be encouraged.

But how many of the various celebrities who have weighed in on this matter have enjoyed holidays in Dubai, where the death penalty, or a serious lashing, for such ‘crimes’ also exists?

How many of the corporations making a big deal of their moral choices still conduct business with Saudi Arabia, which has even stricter laws?

The last few years have seen numerous oil-rich Middle Eastern countries using their vast wealth to buy up large tracts of expensive real estate in London and the States, or purchase football clubs, such as Man City and PSG, to give their rotten regimes a patina of respectability.

Everyone who cared to look knew what these countries were like but presumably thought it was rude to point it out.

Brunei’s laws may only have been introduced in the last week or so, but the death penalty for gay people exists in a dozen countries and the one thing they have in common is a strict interpretation of Sharia law.

Some states employ the punishments more vigorously than others, but their policies aren’t secret. Yet those of us here in the coddled West prefer to stay silent rather than risk accusations of racism or Islamophobia.

A young woman of my acquaintance, of impeccably liberal credentials, recently returned from Dubai and was supremely indifferent when the various human rights violations were pointed out to her – she just wanted a winter holiday in the sun, was her response.

Similarly, perhaps the most egregious crime against decency ever committed by FIFA – and that’s a long charge sheet – was to hand the World Cup to Qatar for 2022.

Qatar – a country where gays and adulterers ‘only’ face being lashed, where women’s rights are non-existent and where, every year, 300-400 migrant workers die building their new stadiums.

If the World Cup had been handed to a Western nation with a similarly abysmal human rights record there would have been international outrage and rightly so. Yet we were told that this was all part of bringing the global ‘football family’ together.

In fact, Qatar had become so liberal, its defenders claimed, that they had even relaxed their long-standing ban on Israelis entering the country – but only if Israel actually qualifies, which I sincerely hope they do.

As it happens, I’ve been offered two freebies to Qatar in recent weeks as they try to soften Western opinion by wining and dining journalists from this part of the world. I’ve turned both of them down on the grounds that I have no more interest in legitimising that barbaric regime than I have in going on holidays with the infamously homophobic Westboro Baptist Church.

So people should protest all they like about the Sultan’s deranged policies, but if you are going to go down that road, it might be an idea to broaden your scope and examine all the other countries who have records just as bad, or worse, than Brunei.

Indo Review


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