The Atlantic

Are Politics Regressing to Premodern Forms?

The sultan of Brunei has proposed stoning as a punishment for male sodomy.
Source: Piroschka Van De Wouw / Reuters

The sultan’s hand felt soft and gentle, more suited for a moisturizer commercial than for participating in a public stoning. By the official count, the sultan of Brunei had shaken tens of thousands of hands in the previous two days, and I worried that by the time his hand shook mine, it would be blistered or leathery. But absolute monarchs are different from you and me, and the sultan of this oil-rich Southeast Asian city-state was different dermatologically as well. When I arrived at the front of the receiving line and squeezed the royal hand, lightly, I thought of Curley in Of Mice and Men, who wore a “glove fulla vaseline” to keep his hand “soft for his wife.” (Wives, I thought, in his case. The sultan has had as many as two at a time.)

The sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, recently attracted fury and denunciation by instituting death by stoning as punishment for male sodomy. (The prescribed punishment for sexual acts between women is less harsh.) He had foreshadowed this policy years earlier but delayed

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic6 min readPsychology
Dear Therapist: My Husband and I Don't Have Sex Anymore
Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Lori Gottlieb answers questions from readers about their problems, big and small. Have a question? Email her at Dear Therapist, My husband and I have been married for three years. It was l
The Atlantic6 min read
In Defense of Big Little Lies’ Second Season
This article contains spoilers through the second season of Big Little Lies. Just to put this out there first: No, the second season of HBO’s Big Little Lies wasn’t as good as the first. The plotting was minimal, leading up to an underwhelming showdo
The Atlantic5 min readPolitics
The Stuff of Dystopian Nightmare
Commercial airliners are not usually restful environments, but February 2017 was a particularly fraught time for domestic air passengers. Donald Trump had become president a month earlier and had quickly issued his “travel ban” executive order, spark