The Flintstones of Brunei




I’m currently researching a thriller about ex-pats, set in a country that operates under strict Sharia law. It will appear after ‘Nyctophobia’, from the name publishing house, Solaris, as part of my two-book deal.

I’ve been to such places, and usually there’s a hypocritical system in place that protects the rich. But this takes the biscuit…

You don’t have to go to the Museum of Creation to see a Stone Age fantasy anymore; you can just go to Brunei. It’s currently classed as a ‘developed country’, but that may be about to change after introducing the legal system, which permits the stoning to death of gay people and adulterers, along with the dismemberment of limbs and other stone-age tortures. 

North of Malaysia and largely muslim, Brunei is ruled by a despot sultan who maintains strong links with the UK. This is because Britain granted it independence in 1984, and a thousand-strong regiment of the British army has been kept there since the 1950s. It’s the last surviving regiment in East Asia.

Naturally, we have trade deals in place with the thrice-married dictator who played polo with Prince Charles. Famously corrupt and increasingly mad, the sultan lives in a 1,788-room palace and has an even more corrupt brother who owned a yacht called ‘Tits’. Brunei now joins an inviting list of places-not-to-go-on-holiday that includes Mauritania, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria and the Maldives, where British couples go for their honeymoons.

Summer’s coming and holiday articles are all over the press. Someone called Sarah Turner in the Daily Mail salivated over Qatar, calling it a land of ‘culture, glitz and glamour’. I guess her press junket didn’t cover the prisons. Actually it’s quite good fun Googling all of the above places with the words ‘holidays in’ attached and seeing what they don’t mention.

Mauritania’s brochures describe the country as ‘inspiring and delightful’, oddly choosing not to mention their problems with slavery, torture and female genital mutilation. The Daily Telegraph has the good grace to mention various assassinations and bomb attacks in their holiday article on Yemen. But it seems there will always be someone who’ll vacation in countries with repressive regimes. If we start getting ethical about holidays while happily buying their imports, where do we stop?

The image I’ve included is from a 2008 film about the stoning of an innocent woman, because the real photographs are too horrific.

4 comments on “The Flintstones of Brunei”

  1. Mike Brough says:

    Best of luck with this, Christopher. You’re a braver man than I.

  2. Helen Martin says:

    These things need to be said and acted upon. Brunei’s full name includes dar es salaam, which translates to home of peace. An acquaintance nursed in Saudi Arabia and had nothing good to say about it. What about Madagascar, home of the lemurs (animals not Roman ghosts)? Killing people doesn’t do anything for their reclamation and if we could get even that into some government’s consciousness it would help. Still, there are a number of states of the U.S where the thinking is no further advanced than in some of these nations so I don’t hold out much hope.

  3. pheeny says:

    It is interesting about how little we hear about repression and the lack of democracy in countries who are our “friends”, compared to the grandstanding about the same in countries who are not our “friends” .

  4. Helen Martin says:

    And perhaps we need better definitions for friend than someone with something I want to buy or who is willing to buy from me.

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