Hundreds of LGBTQ people protested outside the Dorchester Hotel in London against Brunei’s death by stoning for anal sex, which is a part of its implementation of Sharia Islamic law that applies to Muslims only. “It’s barbaric and has no place in the modern world”, a “Stop the Stoning, Allow the Boning” banner-holder told me.
It comes after calls by George Clooney, Elton John and others to boycott the Sultan of Brunei owned or managed exclusive Dorchester Collection of Hotels which also includes the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Le Meurice in Paris.
Human Rights Watch explains on its website, “The penal code, which came into effect on April 3, 2019, requires death by stoning for extramarital sex, anal sex, and abortion; amputation of limbs for stealing; and 40 lashes with a whip for lesbian sex. Children who have reached puberty and are convicted of these offenses can receive the same punishments as adults; certain younger children may be subjected to whipping.”
Brunei, a small but wealthy nation made up of two thirds Muslims that was until recently considered modern, has defended its right to impose the most draconian aspects of Sharia Law which, many Muslims and non alike say, is akin to Daesh’s (ISIS) brutal extremism, Saudi’s Wahhabism or Iran’s Islamic ideology.
The original 2014 call for a ban on the Sultan’s businesses, when Sharia Law was first adopted before it was rolled out fully, has had little effect on the hotels chain’s profits nor much impact on the oil and gas rich nation. In fact the Sultan has probably won over a greater part of the Islamic world at a time when Islam is undergoing a worldwide reformation. Queer rights hits at the core of this.
Our lack of understanding in the West of the complexity and variety of Islamic beliefs, the differences in values and interpretations makes us often unable to individuate 1.6 billion human beings who identity as Muslims, either religiously or culturally or both. This feeds into a us and them mentality and leads to a prejudiced view of much of the world. But there are many Muslims who want the same freedoms that we enjoy.
In supporting the luxury hotels boycott and petitioning for a ban of Royal Brunei Airlines as well as demanding our governments break all financial and diplomatic ties, we celebrate our way of life and our values that have been hard fought for. We give hope to those who fight courageously within Muslim nations and in Muslim communities in the West to find a route forward which is culturally and religiously appropriate. The London protest relayed a message that a modern world cannot ignore such archaic punishments imposed on that which should not be a crime.
Yet we turn a blind eye to Saudi Arabia whose government has huge assets in the West and we are happy to fly Emirates. The UAE has a terrible human rights record – which includes the death penalty for homosexuality – but, unlike Afghanistan, Iran, the remaining Daesh-held territories, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Sudan it does not impose it. The point is the statute exists, and by that LGBTQ people become non-people in parts of the world – this is unacceptable.
Following the change of law in India, which last year decriminalised gay sex, our understandings of Islam today needs to adapt. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) accepted the change in a country which has the most number of Muslims citizens of any non Muslim country.
The current struggle seems easy to grasp but as usual it is far more complex. Also at the London protest, amongst the majority who rightly were furious at the idea of stoning people like us, I noticed some well-known Queer racists in attendance who have a white supremacist agenda that has seeped into queer life and is barely spoken off.
At the same time as there is a move to decriminalise LGBTQ people and our lifestyles worldwide, we are increasingly under attack from right-wing conservative leaders and their Queer supporters. We must remain vigilante.
We must raise our own awareness of who we support and demand full equality always. Those who treat us differently in order to appease the religious fundamentalists in their nations are not our allies. We boycott Russia, yet continue to holiday in Netanyahu’s “I can not promise to promote LGBTQ equality” Israel, Bolsonaro’s “Yes, I’m homophobic and very proud of it,” Brazil, or Trump’s Transphobic “I want to protect our country” USA and many others. Unsurprisingly, these leaders have formed an alliance and together are increasingly ignoring their commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in co-operation with the UN. Granted, you are unlikely to be murdered in these places, but their homophobia gives license to extremist anti-gay views.