By Tommy Sheridan
Love is the most powerful and beautiful emotion in our world. Whether our loving relationships are between two consenting adults of the same sex or the opposite sex is irrelevant. Men who are in love with other men and women who are in love with other women are as entitled to legal protection and recognition in law as those of us in heterosexual relationships. Being gay is not a life choice but a natural and human emotion to be nurtured and supported as part of the rich tapestry of life and humanity.
Gay and lesbian rights are basic human rights that should be promoted, defended and protected. Gay and lesbian emotions should be understood as natural and beautiful. Love comes in many guises, shapes and sizes and no one should be discriminated against or made to feel abnormal because of their sexual orientation.
The recent controversy over the decision of Brunei to apply a strict and much disputed interpretation of Sharia law to human relationships like homosexuality and adultery is a stark reminder that religion is no friend of progress. Religion, on the contrary, is often an enemy of progress.
The sultan of the tiny south-east Asian kingdom of Brunei has been on his throne for fifty years and is one of the richest men on the planet. He lives in a gold-domed palace. Yet all his riches, gold and expensive education cannot prevent him being a backward and ignorant barbarian who wishes to see gay men and lesbian women stoned to death. He gave notice in 2013 of his intention to introduce such draconian aspects of Sharia law into his tiny fiefdom of 430,000 subjects but was delayed by international expressions of outrage. Now he has decided to ignore the protests and proceed with a leap into darkness and barbarism.
Brunei has shunned the UK and other parts of the modern world which now recognises and legally protects gay and lesbian relationships. It as a small country and it and all businesses associated with it should in turn be shunned by every government and individual who believes in human rights.
Celebrities like George Clooney and Elton John have called for the Dorchester chain of hotels, owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, to be boycotted. That presents a challenge to me and many of you reading this column. At only £4,000 a night for the Harlequin Penthouse within the Dorchester in London I was intending a wee Easter break stay at the end of the month but will now investigate alternative digs … In fact I will consciously patch all three of their hotels in the UK and body swerve any of the two situated in each of America, France and Italy.
These hotels are clearly the preserve of the rich and hopefully those with a social conscience will respond positively to the call for a boycott but for us mere mortals we should be signing petitions and lobbying our MP’s to demand the British Government act urgently and decisively to signify their distaste and unwillingness to accept these new laws. Words in such situations are cheap and ineffectual. What we need are actions.
Britain must halt all trading, cultural and military links with this kingdom immediately. Around 2,000 British army personnel are posted there to guarantee the sultan’s protection from any potential opponents. They should be re-called. Military hardware including guns, rockets and armoured vehicles have been sold to the kingdom under licences which are supposed to be human rights proofed. Those shipments should be re-called and all future contracts cancelled.
The Police Federation of England and Wales, representing 119,000 rank and file police officers, have actually shown some welcome leadership in relation to this issue. They had booked the Dorchester hotel in London to host their 24th annual bravery awards ceremony due to take place on 18th July but after the introduction of the draconian ‘death by stoning’ laws for gay relationships in Brunei they acted swiftly and responded to the boycott calls by cancelling their booking and stating explicitly why they had done so. Their chairman, John Apter, said:
“We cannot in all conscience support a regime which is so fundamentally opposed to the values of respect, diversity and equality we hold so highly within our organisation and policing as a whole” https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/04/10/brunei-owned-dorchester-hotel-dropped-venue-police-bravery-awards/.
Well done I say but don’t hold your breath waiting for the British Government to take such decisive action. Weasel words are all you can expect, empty worthless rhetoric. Why? Because if proper and appropriate action was to be taken against Brunei in protest at their barbaric anti-gay and anti-human rights laws then people with a morsel of brain matter would then ask what about Saudi Arabia? After all they have similarly barbaric laws in relation to homosexuality and human relationships:
“On 1 March 2017, two transgender Pakistanis – Amna and Meeno – were tortured to death in Saudi Arabia, after being packed in sacks and then thrashed with sticks. They were among 35 people arrested when police officers raided a rented hall. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Meeno’s family was shocked when they saw the signs of torture on her body” https://fanack.com/family-law/homosexuality-in-saudi-arabia/.
Two transgender human beings were ‘tortured to death’ lawfully in Saudi Arabia 2 years ago. Unfortunately there were no high profile celebrity led campaigns calling for Saudi Arabia to be boycotted. In fact several hundred gays, dissidents and women protesting for the most basic rights have found themselves subjected to torture and death by beheading in the last decade within the dark kingdom of Saudi Arabia but the British Government hardly bats an eyelid because they are one of the UK’s biggest arms customers. Human rights for gays, women or ordinary citizens mean bugger all compared to lucrative arms deals. That is a sad fact.
Despite consistent and brazen violations of international humanitarian law during the bloody and brutal war in Yemen over the last 5 years:
“As the leader of the coalition that began military operations against Houthi forces in Yemen on March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia has committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law. As of August, at least 6,592 civilians had been killed and 10,471 wounded, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), although the actual civilian casualty count is likely much higher. The majority of these casualties were a result of coalition airstrikes” https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/saudi-arabia
The British Government has continued to sell them the missiles, rockets, bullets and jets to commit the war crimes with arms export licences amounting to £5 billion since the start of the assault on Yemen https://fullfact.org/news/uk-has-licensed-least-47bn-arms-exports-saudi-arabia-start-yemen-war/, sales which have been condemned as illegal by an all-party House of Lords Committee https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/16/uks-saudi-weapons-sales-unlawful-lords-committee-finds and which are currently subject to a high court hearing which could further underline the illegal nature of the bloody transactions https://www.caat.org.uk/media/press-releases/2019-04-01.
So by all means condemn Brunei for their barbaric anti-gay and anti-human rights laws but don’t forget Saudi Arabia and its daily persecution of gays, women, dissidents and innocent civilians in Yemen. If we are serious about human rights of gay and lesbian citizens lets boycott all things Brunei and Saudi Arabia, particularly the sale of weapons. That action would speak louder and mean a million times more than weasel words.