In the Maldives, a tiny Indian Ocean nation of 1,200 islands, a group of men stormed into the museum last Tuesday and ransacked a collection of coral and lime figures, including a six-faced coral statue and a 1 1/2-foot-wide representation of the Buddha’s head. Officials said the men attacked the figures because they believed they were idols and therefore illegal under Islamic and national laws, according to the New York Times.
The Maldives were Buddhist from around 250 BCE until the 12th century, when the king converted to Islam.
The vandalism is reminiscent of the Taliban’s 2001 destruction of the giant statues of the Buddha at Bamiyan, in Afghanistan.
The destruction of the Buddhist artifacts is just a symptom of a wider problem in the Maldives; it took place the same day that Mohamed Nasheed, who won the presidency in 2008 in the country’s first democratic election, was forced from office in a coup. Islamic and other opposition parties had complained that Nasheed was not enforcing morality strongly enough, and were enraged that he proposed to allow the sale of alcohol in hotels.
According to a Maldives news source, the destruction included a coral stone head of Lord Buddha which was one of the most significant pieces at the museum. “Other pieces vandalised include the Bohomala sculptures, monkey statues and a broken statue piece of the Hindu water god, Makara, while the two five faced statues discovered from Male’ were also damaged – the only remaining archaeological evidence proving the existence of a Buddhist era in the Maldives.”
Ali Waheed, the director of the National Museum, which was built by China as a gift to the country, said on Monday that officials might be able to restore two or three of the damaged statues, but that the rest were beyond repair. “The collection was totally, totally smashed,” Mr. Waheed said. “The whole pre-Islamic history is gone.”