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OFFENSIVE LAWS AND STUPID BOYCOTTS
By Michael Matthews
May 29, 2014 -- There's no question that it is barbaric and disgusting. Yet it's not only tolerated, it's also being encouraged in and expanding to various parts of the world.
I'm talking about sharia law--or at least the particularly violent and repressive form practiced in some Muslim countries.
Others share my disgust. Entertainers Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres. Anna Wintour, who runs Vogue magazine. Richard Branson, too.
They're all against sharia. And, these days, they're all screaming at the government of Brunei for introducing sharia in the small, oil-rich sultanate. Like some other Muslim countries, in Brunei you can now be stoned, have limbs chopped off, be flogged or have your head removed by some guy wielding a very large and sharp sword for anything from stealing a candy bar to adultery.
In Saudi Arabia, you can go on any Friday morning to Deera Square in the capital of Riyadh and watch the proceedings. They don't call it "Chop Chop Square" for nothing. The only caveat is that foreigners have to sit through the entire series of public executions. You're not allowed to leave, even to vomit, until they are over.
I have visited both Brunei and Saudi Arabia and found both miserable countries with almost no redeeming features except oil. I've even met the Sultan of Brunei on three occasions. His palace is huge, with 1,800 rooms and more than 250 bathrooms. His stables house a string of 200 polo ponies. He owns thousands of rare, vintage sports cars. According to Forbes magazine, he is worth $20 billion.
What does any of this have to do with business travel in general and hotels in particular?
The Sultan of Brunei is the absolute ruler of his wealthy little nation and his government's investment arm owns the Dorchester Collection. That name may be unfamiliar, but the Dorchester Collection includes luxury hotels such as The Dorchester in London; the Hotel Plaza Athénée and Le Meurice in Paris; the Principe di Savoia in Milan; the Hotel Eden in Rome; and the Hotel Bel-Air and the Beverly Hills Hotel in the United States.
The moment that Brunei adopted sharia law earlier this month, a certain fraction of our global community began boycotting and picketing Dorchester Collection properties, especially the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is where the entertainment and social elite of Southern California traditionally meet.
As much as I find sharia law repugnant, I find the idea of a boycott stupid. The boycott in no way will damage the coffers of Brunei. The sultanate is that rich. But what a boycott will do is hurt the little folks--the housekeepers and the barmen and the waiters--who work at the Beverly Hills Hotel. They toil paycheck to paycheck and have no say in what happens tens of thousands of miles away in that oil-rich little enclave.
All this month, entertainment giants have led the charge against the Dorchester Collection. Jay Leno and his wife have fronted demonstrations across the street from the Beverly Hills Hotel. Ellen DeGeneres vowed on Twitter to stay away from both Dorchester Collection properties in Southern California. Gay groups--sharia deals brutally with homosexuality--are rallying against the Dorchester Collection. Civic organizations have pulled their business from the Beverly Hills Hotel. The Beverly Hills City Council passed a resolution urging "the government of Brunei to divest itself of the Beverly Hills Hotel."
In Europe, major fashion houses have begun avoiding the continental outposts of the Dorchester Collection. Anna Wintour--she who was the much-feared devil in The Devil Wears Prada--has suggested that fashionistas avoid the Dorchester properties in Milan, Paris and London during the fashion week in each city.
I say again: It's stupid. None of this will move the Sultan of Brunei or impact his coffers. Only the working stiffs at his hotels will suffer.
What's interesting is that much of the business defecting from The Beverly Hills Hotel and the Bel-Air Hotel has apparently moved to the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills and the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire.
Why does that matter? The majority shareholder of Four Seasons Hotels is Kingdom Holding Company, which also owns the Fairmont and Raffles chains as well as The Plaza in New York, the Savoy in London and the George V in Paris. Who owns Kingdom Holding Company? The Royal Family of Saudi Arabia, which zealously practices sharia law and sponsors the weekly executions in Riyadh's Chop Chop Square.
Boycotting the Dorchester Collection because its owner imposes sharia law in his country and moving your business to hotels owned by another dictatorship that imposes sharia law? There is something profoundly wrong there, something profoundly hypocritical and something absurdly stupid.
I wish I had an answer to this. Sharia is offensive. But boycotting one group of hotels and not another is also offensive.
It's time to rethink the boycotts, find a better way to protest sharia law and ensure that innocent maids and waiters don't lose their livelihood in the process.
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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.
THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.
This column is Copyright © 2014 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.