Apr.23, 2014 | UPDATED Dec.22, 2015 | DICKTATORS MAXIMI
Bruneian Exceptionalism: A Stone's Throw Away From Heaven
The almost fictional country of Brunei, taking its cue from its low-key perennial ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, is not one to be often seeking the international limelight. Nevertheless, the counrty keeps poping up in news headlines now and then and not in the best of circumstances. Last year for example there was a global brouhaha about Brunei's revision of its penal law to incorporate Sharia practices like death by stoning.
The Sultan, who despite his status as the richest man alive shies away from vulgar exhibition of his status (like showing off his 24k gold-plated Rolls or his labyrinthic 1,800-room extra-palatial palace that can host the country's entire population for a sleep-over), is particularly sensitive to any kind of external criticism, hint or insinuation implying that the governance of his fiefdom is anything but stellar. He is after all personally waiting on his citizens "hand and foot" in his capacity as Prime Minister, Minister of Defense & Finance, Head of Islam, Head of Customs, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and Inspector General of the Police Force. In his spare time he also likes to fill in for the weather anchor on Brunei TV.
He is therefore quite disdainful of foreigners questioning his judgement over the fates of Bruneians whom he has been ruling with such dedication. These obtuse and narrow-minded commentators may consider a case of ebullient stoning to death for the crime of robbery as slightly harsh or even risqué, but fail to discern the cultural nuances of the land where stoning is performance art and such a death is both a lament to life's incorrigible fragility and a hymn to its crackling meteoric rise and fall.
Another topic that they egregiously misunderstood is adultery, which was also proposed to be punished by the death penalty. To the Westerners' salacious and nihilistic modus openandi, it is nothing but the manifestation of the sexual urges of the human body, but to a pious country with a handful of residents like Brunei, flirting with an unauthorized person may lead to incest as he or she could very well be your half-sibling; next thing you know the kingdom could turns into Sodom-and-Gomorrah-on-Borneo if this kind of behaviour is not strictly controlled.
In the latest case of making the international headlines, the authorities have banned public celebrations of Christmas, including sending festive greetings and the wearing of Santa Claus hats. What the Grinch failed to do, the Sultan of Brunei shall.