Opinion

Why I walked into the Sultan of Brunei’s Beverly Hills Hotel

Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah attends the formal session of the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit in Busan, South Korea, Friday, Dec. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, Pool)

Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah attends the formal session of the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit in Busan, South Korea, Friday, Dec. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, Pool)

Last week I faced a tough decision.

I was chosen to receive an award by the Iranian Women’s Organization, but found out the gala would be held at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The hotel is the same one that came under scrutiny over the past year as its owner, the Sultan of Brunei, imposed strict Shariah, or Islamic Law, on his people.

I wholeheartedly wanted to accept the award, which ironically was for “enhancing the image of women,” but felt conflicted about going into the hotel, after spending so many years covering the brutal application of Shariah law in different parts of the world.

How could I accept such an honor in the Sultan’s ballroom knowing that while we would be sipping champagne, women in Brunei still risked getting stoned to death?

I could have backed out and boycotted the hotel, as many others have, some silently and others from the picket lines. But accepting the award would present me with a unique opportunity to walk along the iconic red carpet at its entrance and to condemn Shariah law from inside the hotel.

And that is ultimately what I chose to do.

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In my acceptance speech, I called out the Sultan, Shariah law and any other dictators or extremist groups trying to suppress and deny human rights to others. Some of the attendees knew about the boycott. Others were hearing it for the first time. But all stood up and applauded in support.

 

Here is an excerpt:

“As parents in Africa struggle with whether to send their young daughters to school for fear that they should be kidnapped or raped; As women in Iran bravely took off their hijabs to pose for pictures on Facebook to then get acid thrown in their faces; As the women of Egypt took to Tahrir Square to show the world that they no longer accept a male-dominated society and were then told to go back to the kitchen; As the women of Saudi Arabia fight to do nothing more than drive and go out alone; And let’s not forget that as we sit here in this hotel owned by the Sultan of Brunei, only months ago protests and boycotts led by celebrities such as Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres reminded us that while there’s an argument to be made about supporting the employees and local economy of the hotel, we cannot and will not forget the citizens of that country or any others where Shariah law has been implemented, stripping its citizens of basic human rights.”

 

Some call it courage. I disagree. What I did at the hotel was fulfill my responsibility as a journalist, as a woman, as someone who has the platform and freedom to educate and raise awareness.

As the child of parents who left Iran before the Islamic Revolution never to return, I grew up sharply aware of the opportunities available to me in this country, particularly as a female.

I would watch in horror as the mullahs transformed the land my parents called home, ruthlessly stripping Iranians of basic rights, all in the name of their brand of Islam.  Listening intently at the dinner table to family members discussing the political and social developments in Iran, I knew from a very young age I was blessed to live in America.

ISIS, Brunei, the Iranian regime… their victims have one thing in common: they’re human. It is now more crucial than ever to use pen or protest to keep these stories in the media and public spotlight.

The women of the Iranian Women’s Organization said they were not aware of the hotel’s ownership or the recent public criticism, but they have already said that they are looking for a new venue for next year’s gala.

Lisa Daftari is a Fox News contributor specializing in Middle Eastern affairs.

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