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Sharia law gets cool reception in Beverly Hills

Celebrities support a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel in response to the implementation of Sharia law in Brunei. (Reuters)


The Beverly Hills Hotel, where Elizabeth Taylor honeymooned after six of her eight marriages, has attracted star-studded clientele to its sumptuous suites, palm-tree-lined pool and hip bar scene since it opened in 1912.

But on Monday, the famous Sunset Boulevard address attracted crowds of protesters, stars among them, amid calls for a boycott.

The Beverly Hills Hotel and nine other luxury hotels worldwide are part of the Dorchester Collection, which is owned by the government of Brunei, the oil-rich Southeast Asian nation where women can be jailed for out-of-wedlock pregnancies and anal sex will soon be punishable by death.

The sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, began phasing in a new criminal code based on Islamic sharia law this month. Failure to attend Friday prayers and out-of-wedlock pregnancies are now punishable by fines and imprisonment. Later this year, punishments including flogging and severing of limbs will be introduced for robbery and other property crimes. Next year, death by stoning will be introduced as punishment for sodomy and adultery.

The sultan, one of the world’s wealthiest men, said in a royal decree last Wednesday that the move was “a must” under Islam, dismissing “never-ending theories” that sharia punishments were cruel in comments clearly aimed at detractors.

According to the Agence France-Presse:

The sultan first proposed the sharia penal code in 1990s, and in recent years has increasingly warned of rising crime and pernicious outside influences including the internet. He has called Islam a ‘firewall’ against globalisation. He announced the implementation plans in October. … Muslim ethnic Malays, who make up about 70% of the population, are broadly supportive of the move by their revered father-figure. But some Malays and non-Muslim citizens privately express unease. About 15% of Brunei’s people are non-Muslim ethnic Chinese.

The move could indicate the sultan is becoming more conservative as he ages, said Joseph Chinyong Liow, a Singapore-based professor of Muslim politics. ‘The sultan himself is at a point where there is a need to come to terms with religious identity, both personally and for the country,’ he said.

Most of the punishments can be applied to the one-third of Brunei residents who are not Muslim, the Associated Press reported.

On Monday, the Motion Picture & Television Fund joined a growing list of organizations boycotting the hotel chain when it pulled its star-studded annual Night Before the Oscars party, which has been held at the Beverly Hills Hotel for years, citing Brunei’s “outrageous and unacceptable legal code.”

Others boycotting the hotel chain include the Hollywood Reporter and the Feminist Majority Foundation, which organized a protest that took place Monday across the street from the hotel. Jay Leno joined the protesters along with his wife, Mavis, who is on the Foundation’s board.

“The Beverly Hills Hotel is like the Clippers; the Sultan of Brunei is like Donald Sterling,” the former “Tonight Show” host said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Does that make it clear?” (Sterling, who owns the Los Angeles Clippers, was banned from the NBA for life last week and fined $2.5 million for racist remarks.)

Christopher Cowdray, the chief executive officer of the Dorchester Collection, told the Times that the boycott will not stop implementation of sharia law and would only hurt the hotel employees. Together, he said, the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air employ about 1,000 people, and the Beverly Hills Hotel alone pays about $7 million in bed taxes and $4 million in city taxes.

In another statement, Cowdray noted that “today’s global economy needs to be placed in a broader perspective.”

The Dorchester Collection of hotels includes such expensive destinations as the Dorchester, just off Hyde Park in London, and the Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris. In late April, fashion designers Brian Atwood and Peter Som took to Instagram to discourage fashion week attendees from staying at properties in the Dorchester Collection.

Others took to Twitter: 




The Beverly Hills City Council is expected to pass a resolution Tuesday calling on the Brunei government to sell the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Times reported. “Unfortunately, there are many offensive human rights situations around the globe,” Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse, who proposed the resolution, told the Times. “However, these new Brunei laws are so barbaric that the city felt compelled to add to the growing international outrage.”


Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.



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