Consensual sex between two men can now result in their being stoned to death under a new law in Brunei that went into effect April 3. The law, which also punishes cross dressing with imprisonment, is part of a criminal penal code based on Sharia law that has been in development since 2013.
Brunei’s homophobic law has earned the condemnation of the international community, and major celebrities such as George Clooney and Ellen Degeneres have called for a boycott of the nine luxury hotels owned by the small kingdom.
While these major figures were right to call for a boycott, the impact may mean little to those who cannot afford a stay at hotels such as the Hotel Bel-Air, in the first place. Instead, a boycott needs to be enacted by everyday people and hit Brunei where it hurts – its primary export– Shell gasoline. Brunei’s economy heavily relies on oil exports, a boycott against Brunei Shell petroleum will be the everyday person’s way to apply pressure on Brunei.
Amnesty International USA board director Rafia Zakaria explains in her April 4 column for CNN that Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah implemented a Sharia penal code to distract from the kingdom’s political and economic problems.
Brunei has not successfully diversified its economy to reduce dependence on oil exports, and the country is desperately looking to foreign investment for economic development, according to the 2019 Index for Economic Freedom.
The Sultan’s introduction of harsh punishments into a religious-based penal code has the effect of both projecting a strongman image to his subjects and justifying brutally harsh measures in a cultural and religious tradition.
By implementing multiple boycotts depending on the capacities of an individual – large international companies refusing to satisfy Brunei’s needs for foreign investment, wealthy people boycotting the nine hotels, and the lay people boycotting Brunei’s oil – the international community can hinder Brunei’s economy and send the message to the Sultan that continuing this brutal, homophobic law will have the opposite effect that he intends for his country.
That, more than any appeals to the cruelty of said law, may incite change.