Last Thursday, George Clooney wrote a guest column for Deadline calling for the immediate boycott of nine luxury hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei, including the Beverly Hills and Bel-Air hotels in Los Angeles. Clooney was reacting to the enactment of laws that make it potentially legal to murder gay people by stoning them. The reaction to his first column was swift; some of it cynical. Clooney asked to clarify and further explain his position. From here, the courage of speaking up before the rest of the world waits for a cruel tragedy to act is urgent enough that he can have as much editorial space here as he needs, as often as he requires it.
I’ve been asked to give dozens of interviews over the last couple of days. For the most part there’s no need. My statement stands as is. But since there have been people who have legitimate questions about the effect of pointing out these hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei, I do believe a couple of clarifications are in order.
The first question everyone asks is if a boycott has any effect on the intended target or does it just hurt the people who work at the hotels? I share those concerns, but to equate their situation with the fact that this week the 5th richest country in the world would take a young woman who is found to be gay, bury her up to her neck and have 25 men throw stones at her head until she is dead seems unfathomable. This exact argument was used during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. And yes a lot of hard working, presumably innocent bus drivers were hurt … but no one would argue that the boycott was for the far greater good.
Another question is, “Isn’t this about a bunch of rich people staying away from hotels that I could never afford?” These are very expensive hotels, but the bulk of their business isn’t individuals but companies. I’ve been to these hotels when I was doing press events set up by the studios. I don’t know any companies that want to put money in the pocket of a murderer once they know.
Now they know.
It is also true that the Sultan won’t be terribly hurt by a boycott, but the scores of companies he funnels money through will distance themselves. That’s what a boycott does.
The most dangerous issue is Brunei’s neighbors. Indonesia has plenty of human rights issues, but they haven’t stoned anyone yet. But there was a law on the books, and if Brunei isn’t met with loud, forceful resistance that shakes their business establishments, then anything is possible.
For those that want to play “what-about-isms,” what about Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Somalia? There’s a long list. Well then, get to it. We all do what we can. For my part I spend the better part of my days chasing corruption and criminals led by some of the worst human rights violators in the world. And we do it by chasing their finances and confronting the establishments that they’re laundering money through. Believe me, no banker living in London wants to be outed as a human rights profiteer. Sunlight is the great disinfectant. Boycotts are sunlight.
You can’t make the bad guys be good, but you can stop the good guys from being complicit.
Let me just paint you a picture: 20 years from now, you or your kids are asked, “Is it true that the guy that owned all of these great hotels was stoning gay people to death?” And you say “yes.” The next question will be, “And you still went there?”