On April 3, 2019 in the nation of Brunei, anal sex became punishable by death by stoning according to CNN. Other offenses are also now punishable by death including adultery and apostasy. Theft will be punishable by amputation now as well. Once posted, this announcement was immediately the object of study and backlash on a local and international scale.
Fear struck the citizens of Brunei as members of the LGBTQ community and others feared that communities in real life, as well as on the internet, were infiltrated by the police or people willing to turn them in to the police. People are quite literally fearing for their limbs and their lives.
A Bruneian gay man told the BBC that “you wake up and realize that your neighbors, your family or even that nice old lady that sells prawn fritters by the side of the road doesn’t think you’re human, or is okay with stoning.”
Universities including the University of Oxford, and the University of Aberdeen have taken a stand and put in review their respective honorary degrees that were awarded to the Sultan. Though according to The Washington Post, Oxford is not sure if anyone has the right “summarily to rescind” the degrees as this touches on issues of the university’s authority when respecting cultural differences and sovereignty.
As reported by The Washington Post, many celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres, George Clooney, and Elton John have begun a world boycott of hotels owned by the Dorchester Collection brand which itself is owned by the sultan of Brunei, Sultan Hassanal Bokiah. These hotels include properties in Los Angeles, London, Paris, and Milan.
The reason that the Sultan, of a relatively small country owns so much international luxury property is that he is one of the richest world leaders. Business Insider has his worth at $20 billion, which is over six times the net worth of Donald Trump.
The Sultan therefore has lived a very lavish lifestyle. Vanity Fair reports that he would race around in Ferraris with his brother, sail on yachts, and that he “allegedly sent emissaries to comb the globe for the sexiest women they could find in order to create a harem for the likes of which the world had never known.” The “sex-crazed prince,” also according to Business Insider, had six life-size statues of him and his then fiancée having sex.
This has led some people to consider him hypocritical as his recent hardline Islamic laws do not seem to match the sentiment of his lifestyle. This is a fair criticism considering the Qur’an says “And give the relative his right, and [also] the poor and the traveler, and do not spend wastefully. Indeed, the wasteful are brothers of the devils, and ever has Satan been to his Lord ungrateful.”
This recent action however, did not come out of nowhere. In 2014, Brunei began implementing Sharia law alongside common law. This first wave, according to BBC, addressed crimes that could be punished by prison sentence or fine, whereas the newest phase covers stoning, amputation, and caning.
Many are wondering, what reason there is toimplement these extreme laws in the first place, and secondly, why now. Some, like Matthew Woolfe, founder of The Brunei Project, believe that the Sultan is trying to establish firm control in an economically weakening nation. Woolfe believes that the Sultan is trying to attract support from the local and international Muslim community to boost tourism, trade, investment, and the economy as a whole. As for why the second and third waves have come so late after the first wave in 2014, most people believe it was so that backlash from the first wave would properly die down. Either way, human rights violations should not be made in the name of economics and to detract attention from one’s own faults.
These motives may have a bright side though. Since these new laws may be coming from a desire for power and not completely from a place of hate, they may not be enforced. An example of this is the mere fact that punishment of sodomy, to be punished, needs four Muslim witnesses.