Cash, Conscience & the Moral Compass

It’s a big day in Brunei.

Starting today, it is legal to stone homosexuals to death.

New Islamic laws that took effect in Brunei on Wednesday, punishing gay sex and adultery by stoning offenders to death, have triggered an outcry from countries, rights groups and celebrities far beyond the tiny Southeast Asian nation’s shores.

The penalties were provided for under new sections of Brunei’s Sharia Penal Code, instituted in 2014 to bolster the influence of Islam in the oil-rich monarchy of around 430,000 people, two-thirds of whom are Muslim.

Even before 2014, homosexuality was already punishable by a jail term of up to 10 years. But under the new laws, those found guilty of gay sex could be stoned to death. Adulterers risk death by stoning too, while thieves face amputation of a right hand on their first offense and a left foot on their second.

By now, you’ve probably seen the calls for action – in this case, the boycotting of the luxury hotel chain (list at the end of this post) that is owned by the Sultan of Brunei – on the part of George Clooney, Ellen Degeneres, Elton John, Bobby Berk and a host of other, vocal celebrities. 

Succinctly put:

“They’re nice hotels. The people who work there are kind and helpful and have no part in the ownership of these properties. But let’s be clear, every single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery. Brunei is a Monarchy and certainly any boycott would have little effect on changing these laws. But are we really going to help pay for these human rights violations? Are we really going to help fund the murder of innocent citizens? I’ve learned over years of dealing with murderous regimes that you can’t shame them. But you can shame the banks, the financiers and the institutions that do business with them and choose to look the other way.”

George Clooney Op-Ed

This call for boycott was first vocalized back in 2014, as the Sultan announced his plan to invoke Sharia Law throughout Brunei by 2019. The furor died down and is now revitalized by the actual fact of this inhumane legal structure. Of course, this writer supports an active, vocal boycott; though my personal budget has never afforded me entree to that level of hospitality, so my staying away from the Dorchester Collection will have literally no effect on their profits.

As of this writing, I am unaware of any of my peers, colleagues or their companies actually doing business in Brunei. I would hope that any such business enterprise would cease with the knowledge of these aggressive, egregious violations of simple human rights. 

But, that’s not my call. These are personal and business decisions to be made by oneself with respect to one’s own business and point of view.

The thing is, this is far bigger than just Brunei. The spectrum on this planet of governments and businesses who aggressively support Hate is vast and broad. Hate for minorities, hate for women, hate for other-colored peoples, hate for homosexuals: Hate. 

So, when business profit goes to support hate; whither the Right Course? How much can concern for Life on the Planet affect decisions that are “purely business;” and is anything “purely business” at all, anyway?

From the US$2million a year that Chick-fil-A donates to US-based LGBTQ-targeted hate groups to the Russian pogrom of homosexuals in Chechnya to the government of Saudi Arabia ordering the brutal murder of a US Resident journalist, the degree of severity, the level of transgression, the sheer and willful abnegation of Human Values is virtually overwhelming. Simply keeping track of all the places and instances of hateful abuses of Power is exhaustive.

So, do we have a moral duty to pay attention to where the profits of our offshore or domestic expenditures go?

That being said, they are personal and business decisions with very real human ramifications. My own sense is that putting money in the Hands of Those Who Hate must, at some level, take a karmic or spiritual toll.

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During my four-year sojourn in Dubai, these conversations occupied no small amount of time and energy among friends and colleagues. There is a case to be made for being physically present in countries and regions of oppression; somewhat protected by having American citizenship thus able to represent to locals the truth and facts of freedoms available and accepted in other parts of the world. 

Enlightened citizens may have the opportunity to change their countries laws and cultures from within. Maybe. Sometimes.

At the same time and in the same conversations, it was incumbent on the Americans to cop to our own country’s de facto, endemic racism, hate and Human Rights Violations. We are not so innocent; especially now.

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So what are our responsibilities as businesspeople and citizens of the US and of the world? At what point can we, with conscience intact, do business with governments or institutions for which Hate is such a part?

Is there a line we can walk with integrity; growing a global business while standing for humane treatment of and respect for all human beings? Can we say “…it’s not our business…” as we pay the taxes and pour profits into the accounts of nationals who Hate…who legislate and act on said Hate?

Can we take a stand for what we know is right and still have a business?

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So: the information:

Again, these are calls that no one of us can make for another. The only universal action available to us is to simply inform and be informed. Decisions must lie with the Individuals and Boards. 

Even a quickly-gathered list of Areas and Governments of Concern is exhausting to read.

1) List of Dorchester Hotels:

  • The Dorchester, London
  • 45 Park Lane, London
  • Coworth Park Dorchester, Ascot
  • The Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hills
  • Hotel Bel-Air, Los Angeles
  • Le Meurice, Paris
  • Hotel Plaza Athenee, Paris
  • Hotel Eden, Rome
  • Hotel Principe di Savoia, Milan

2) UAE. We already know that it’s against the law to be HIV+ in the UAE and Malaysia, subject to immediate removal from the country.

3) Russia / Chechnya. Russian police continue to harass LGBTQ individuals, groups and gatherings.

Since the Sochi games brought to the world’s attention the Putin government’s policy of overt harassment, humiliation and torture of Russia’s LGBTQ population, there has been increasing public scrutiny and outcry. Yet, gay people are still disappearing from Chechnya and incidents such at that cited in the above news article continue to proliferate.

4) San Antonio tossed Chick-fil-A out of their airport.

This franchise chain has been giving millions to anti-gay hate groups for years. Yet, we are continually surprised at the number of otherwise conscious and aware peers and colleagues who have no idea that this is taking place. Other towns and college campuses are following suit. 

5) Qatar: Sharia law in Qatar applies only to Muslims, who can be put to death for extramarital sex, regardless of sexual orientation.

6) Saudi Arabia: Under the country’s interpretation of sharia law, a married man engaging in sodomy or any non-Muslim who commits sodomy with a Muslim can be stoned to death. All sex outside of marriage is illegal.

7) Afghanistan: The Afghan Penal Code does not refer to homosexual acts, but Article 130 of the Constitution allows recourse to be made to sharia law, which prohibits same-sex sexual activity in general. Afghanistan’s sharia law criminalizes same-sex sexual acts with a maximum of the death penalty. No known cases of death sentences have been meted out since the end of Taliban rule in 2001.

8 Somalia: The penal code stipulates prison, but in some southern regions, Islamic courts have imposed sharia law and the death penalty.

9) Sudan: Three-time offenders under the sodomy law can be put to death; first and second convictions result in flogging and imprisonment. Southern parts of the country have adopted more lenient laws.

10) Mauritania: Muslim men engaging in homosexual sex can be stoned to death, according to a 1984 law, though none have been executed so far. Women face prison.

11) Nigeria: Federal law classifies homosexual behavior as a felony punishable by imprisonment, but several states have adopted sharia law and imposed a death penalty for men. A law signed in early January makes it illegal for gay people countrywide to hold a meeting or form clubs.

12) Yemen: According to the 1994 penal code, married men can be sentenced to death by stoning for homosexual intercourse. Unmarried men face whipping or one year in prison. Women face up to seven years in prison.

13) Iran: In accordance with sharia law, homosexual intercourse between men can be punished by death, and men can be flogged for lesser acts such as kissing. Women may be flogged.

14) South Carolina: California is banning state-funded travel to South Carolina because of policies it considers discriminatory toward LGBT people.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the ban Tuesday. He says a provision in a budget bill passed last year allows faith-based child-placing agencies to discriminate against those who do not conform to their religious beliefs or moral convictions, including members of the LGBTQ community. 

Becerra’s decision is based on a 2017 California law that bans state-funded or state-sponsored travel to states that authorize discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. California already bars official travel to Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.

All food for thought: IMHO

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