Saturday, August 30, 2014

Celebrities are fighting each other over the Beverly Hills Hotel

Jay Leno attends a protest rally at the Beverly Hills Hotel Frederic J. Brown

Kim Kardashian wrote a controversial blog post Monday afternoon. But she wasn't writing about her relationship with Kanye West, or their daughter North's massive birthday celebration. She was writing about the Beverly Hills Hotel, and why she opposes an ongoing boycott against it.

So let's back up. Why are people boycotting Beverly Hills Hotel, and why are Kim Kardashian and other celebrities taking sides?

The Controversy

Built in 1912 outside of Los Angeles, the Beverly Hills Hotel attracted so many visitors that the city that sprung up around it was given the same name. Celebrities like John Wayne and Elizabeth Taylor frequented the hotel and enshrined it as a celebrity sanctuary.

The current owner Hassanal Bolkiah is also the sultan of Brunei, a small country of a little over 400,000 people that shares the island of Borneo with Indonesia and Malaysia. As sultan, Bolkiah is one of the richest men in the world, but he also runs Brunei under sharia law, a strict Islamic legal code, and has proposed a new legal code organized around sharia principles. Under the first phase of Bolkiah's proposed implementation of sharia, fines and jail time can be given for failing to attend Friday prayers, indecent behaviors, and being pregnant outside of marriage. The second phase will allow flogging and limb severing for property crimes, and the third will allow stoning for crimes of adultery and gay sex.

Malaysia and Indonesia also enforce sharia law, but their approaches are dramatically milder. The sharia law in Brunei has been criticized as a human rights violation by the United Nations and the Human Rights Campaign. A boycott against the Sultan's LA hotel was launched in the hope it would pressure the Sultan to abandon this approach.

Groups gathered outside the hotel to protest and were supported by celebrities such as Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres. Groups, like the International Women's Media Foundation, that had planned to hold conferences at the Beverly Hills Hotel moved their reservations to other locations.

"We cannot hold a human rights and women's rights event at a hotel whose owner would institute a penal code that fundamentally violates women's rights and human rights," the Feminist Majority Foundation's president Eleanor Smeal said in a statement.

The Backlash to the Protest

It has been almost two months since the boycotting began, and some celebrities are starting to switch sides. Celebrities like Russell Crowe have spoken on behalf of the hotel's employees whose wages and hours could be cut as a result of the boycott. It's important to note, however, that the hotel has guaranteed that the wages and benefits will not be cut regardless of the protest.

Now, Kim Kardashian has joined the side of the staff. "I hope we can come together and stand up for our beliefs while still making sure good people aren't wrongfully hurt in the process," Kardashian wrote. "Boycotting the hotel won't affect the sultan, just our dear friends who work there."

The key question, then, is whether the boycott is actually an effective way to pressure the Sultan to abandon. Kardashian notes that hotel has lost more than $2 million in the boycott, and argues that's not enough to affect a sultan with an estimated worth of $20 billion, only enough to effect the workers. But the reputational damage to the Sultan and the hotel has been considerable, and could jeopardize his business dealings going forward.

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