Friday, 5 April 2019

A Punishment of Biblical Proportions

The news broke yesterday that the Sultan of Brunei is implementing a number of Sharia law-based punishments, including (but not limited to) stoning to death for homosexuality.

Brunei is not the only country with a death penalty for homosexuality. It joins a list that includes Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, parts of Nigeria, parts of Somalia, parts of Syria and parts of Iraq, though it is unclear how exactly that death penalty may be administered. Homosexuality is illegal in many other countries but 'only' punished with a jail sentence, countries that include many members of the British Commonwealth.

In Europe, the major initiative against homosexuals was instigated by the Roman Catholic Church in the 13th century, though of course it had been forbidden in the Bible (collated by Roman Catholic Clergy in the 6th and 7th century) since the time of Leviticus. Even in Leviticus, however, it is marked as being merely 'detestable' (NIV) - there is no mention of a death penalty.

In the UK, good old Henry VIII oversaw the criminalisation of sodomy in 1533, punishable by hanging, a punishment that was only repealed in 1861. Nothing to be proud of, indeed, but there is a vast difference between hanging and stoning to death.

A number of celebrities, most notably Ellen de Generes and George Clooney, have called for a boycott of hotels in the Dorchester Collection, a group owned ultimately by the extraordinarily wealthy Sultan of Brunei. (The list is here, if you want to know.) But boycotting these hotels - which is not an option for most of us as we couldn't afford to go there in the first place - only punishes the immediate employees rather than their employer, who can probably afford to sell a luxury hotel or two off cheap like last year's Monopoly pieces.

How to respond, then, to the announcement from Brunei? I don't know what the answer is. But it seems terribly sad, at a time when Saudi Arabia is finally allowing a small element of the twentieth century into its ranks with women drivers, that Brunei thinks it appropriate to lurch back to the standards of two millennia ago.

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