Hollywood star George Clooney is very angry with Brunei, the tiny Southeast Asian monarchy, for introducing Sharia law, which prescribes harsh punishments like stoning to death for those who engage in homosexuality and adultery. One never thought that being husband of human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, Clooney would be so ignorant. Clooney, who has called for boycott of hotels owned by Sultan of Brunei, does not know that Brunei is not the first country to introduce Sharia law. There are about 10 countries in the world, which include Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – allies of the West – where Sharia law is enforced. The “great friend” of the US, Saudi Arabia since its inception has Sharia Law and punishments like public beheadings and flogging are meted out regularly. After Friday prayers, thousands of people gather to watch the spectacle of beheading a thief or an adulterer. And in this case, there is no discrimination on the basis of gender – man and woman get same treatment!
On this issue, one has never heard Clooney calling for boycott of Saudi oil even when his wife Amal blasted US President Donald Trump for giving ‘green light’ to autocratic regimes to oppress and kill journalists. Even the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi could not jolt his conscious. Bill Maher, the host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, has rightly called the Hollywood star’s actions “chickenshot tokenism” and asked what about Saudi Arabia?

Pic courtesy: Izam Said Ya’akub.

May be in this case size matters.
Brunei is a tiny country with the population of 400,000. It has oil and gas but can’t match Saudi’s deep oil wells and deep pockets. Saudi Arabia, despite worst human rights record, has never faced calls for boycott of its oil because it stuffs dollar bills in the mouth of every critic. Even President Trump has changed his tune when Saudis offered him $40 billion arms deal. Suddenly, the country, which Trump said was behind 9/11 during his election campaign, became ‘great friend’ of the US. This does not end here.

Pic courtesy: Izam Said Ya’akub.

Despite compelling evidence against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, popularly known as MbS, in the murder of Khashoggi, Trump, instead of condemning it, reiterated his support for the Saudi Crown Prince. Hollywood of which Clooney is a part may have made a film on ‘blood diamonds’ but feels no qualms in accepting “blood money” from Saudi Arabia, ignoring death, destruction and starvation its war on Yemen had inflicted on the Yemeni population. In fact, Forbes called MbS’s foray into Hollywood as “prince charming” act after he promised billions in investments. May be like most Americans, Clooney needs lessons in geography. He should know that Brunei is not in the Middle East and unlike Saudi Arabia, it has very liberal society. Women are not just driving just cars but also country’s economy as they form a large part of work force. Its population of 400, 000 also consists of Chinese and people of Indian origin, mostly Tamil. There is no restriction of worship on people who are not Muslims.

Pic courtesy: Izam Said Ya’akub.

Right in the city centre of its capital Bandar Seri Begawan, stands a Buddhist temple from where the celebrations of Chinese New Year kick off. Just a distance away from the Buddhist temple, are Our Lady of the Assumption Church and St. Andrew’s Anglican Church where mass is regularly held on Sunday. One can’t imagine this in Saudi Arabia, where houses of Filipino expat workers are raided for the crime of “praying in their house”. The gala Chinese New Year function organised by the Chinese community is attended by His Majesty the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and all the members of the royal family. Of course, being a Muslim country the sale of alcohol is forbidden but non-Muslims can bring in the prescribed quantity from neighbouring eastern Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah. Like any other country, Brunei too has LGBT community but during my more than 10-year stay there, I did not hear a single case of harassment or vigilantism against them. On the contrary, the number of hate crimes against the LGBT community in the US, and other western countries is very high.

Besides, Brunei has almost zero crime rate and despite having the death penalty for drug smuggling, it has not implemented it since 1957.

Pic courtesy: Izam Said Ya’akub.

Whereas capital punishments similar to hudud laws are prevalent in many non-Muslim countries including 30 US states.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 25 people were executed in the United States in 2018. The number of death sentences imposed was 42. Since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated by the US Supreme Court, 1,493 people have been executed (as of March 1, 2019).

Pic courtesy: Izam Said Ya’akub.

There were 2,738 people on death row in the United States on July 1, 2018.
So, Mr Clooney before you open your mouth, just read what your former president Abraham Lincoln had said: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt”.

About the author

Asif Ullah Khan


  • You don’t speak on Brunei’s behalf Asif. As a former managing editor of Brunei Times, you failed to voice out for your former employees when the media agency was shut down for “misreporting” the Saudis. Then all of a sudden you write a long piece to protect us? What a waste of space.

    • What are you on about? Why is the blame of the shutdown on him? This is a well-researched piece that carries all the facts that Clooney needed to know before he opened his mouth and showed the world how ignorant and vapid he is.

      Former BT employee here too. Also, Asif left Brunei before BT shut down genius so don’t take it on him.

      Would be interesting if you let us know who you are eh?

  • Author says Brunei is better than Saudi Arabia. Wow. Superb. So that makes Brunei the best country for human rights.

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