In Maldives last Tuesday, six men entered the National Museum and destroyed nearly 30 Buddha statues. According to reports, the men destroyed these archaeological treasures because they believe them to be idols, illegal under both Islamic and national law. Maldives, a Sunni Muslim country, was a Buddhist nation until the 12th century, when it is believed that the country converted to Islam.
These acts of vandalism give rise to concern that extremists within the country are gaining ground. The vandalism took place on the same day that democratically elected president Mohamed Nasheed says that he was forced out of office during a coup, though his opponents claim that his resignation was voluntary – this after protests by Islamic and opposition political parties aimed at the president for not “cracking down on massage parlors that operated as brothels” and for his proposal to allow hotels on the island inhabited by Maldivians to serve alcohol.
While it may be possible for a few of the statues to be repaired and restored, the majority of them will be a loss. This is particularly frustrating for archaeologists because many of the island’s ancient artifacts have either been lost or destroyed over the years.