Oxford University is stuck in the dark ages over Brunei – thankfully George Clooney is showing how it’s done
How backward is this bastion of education, and how eager to protect its precious coffers?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was set up on 10 December 1948. Now I won’t be quoting the entire thing, it’s been a long time since my grade C essay at university. But what I will say is that it set out a number of freedoms and rights that every person on this planet deserves and which are needed to maintain what is perceived as a civil society.
Throughout the years, the UK and other nations have picked and chosen when they deemed it appropriate to invoke the protection of human rights as a legitimate reason to interfere in another nation’s affairs. Often the underlying drive has been money rather than overall welfare for individuals.
Sometimes simple economic sanctions suffice when dealing with a country that is breaking with the declaration. But how can you employ this strategy when the country you are dealing with has a ruler that is estimated to have a personal fortune of $20bn (£15.3m)?
This week George Clooney, Ellen DeGeneres and Elton John have come out to encourage a boycott of hotels across the world which are funded by the sultan of Brunei’s investment agency. These include the Dorchester collection, an operator of some of the world’s top hotels like the Dorchester in London and the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.
The reason? A law has just been passed by the sultan that allows for male same-sex couples to be stoned and whipped to death if they are found together. Included in the same penal code is the crime of adultery – aimed at women – and for thieves to have their hands chopped off.
Homosexuality was already deemed illegal and was punishable by 10 years in prison. Now the sultan has called for a more brutal version of Islamic law. The new code became law on Wednesday this week. For gay women the punishment is 40 lashes of the cane or 10 years in prison.
So what is the boycotting of hotels which are meant for the top, top, top echelon of society going to actually do? Do those people even care? I mean, it may be that a cream tea and a comfy pillow outweighs the lashing to death of a gay man in Brunei. Any discomfort will easily be removed by a well-timed, overpriced massage. There is more to it though.
If you want to hit a man hard, shame won’t work, but money might talk. Essentially, as Clooney said, hit them in their wallet. These hotels are not just about their guests, but every night run events in their function rooms and ballrooms. They are deeply sensitive to damage to their reputations.
Nowadays businesses are more and more aware of how important it is to move decisively away from any association that might damage their brand. I doubt in the future I will be attending another fashion or music party at the Dorchester after just one tweet from Monsieur Clooney.
The University of Aberdeen is looking into removing the honorary degree awarded to the sultan, as is King’s College London. But this drip, drip effect won’t stop the sultan from looking to impose the harshest interpretation of Islamic law. The influx of money coming from the Muslim world means he will continue to look strong in the face of the criticism.
Will these laws be implemented? Many people in Brunei say it is very unlikely. But the more public shaming that can be done of institutions linked to Brunei, the better. Sadiq Kahn has already removed an advert for Brunei from the TfL network. These things can work and perhaps can at least allay the actual implementation of such heinous laws.
My final thought, however, is for an old bastion of education, Oxford University. It too has strong links to the sultan, however, it couldn’t even stretch to a cursory “we will review the honorary degree awarded to the sultan”.
Instead, it gave an outright affirmation that it will uphold it. It shows how backward a university like Oxford is, and how far it will go to protect its precious coffers.
If we want to hit people’s wallets, perhaps we should be looking at how we can strain the finances of these sheltered mandarins at Oxford who refuse to listen to their students. Be more George Clooney, call them out and take a stand, however you can. I mean... it’s better than shouting about Brexit.
Will Young and Chris Sweeney’s Homo Sapiens podcast is out now