Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Destruction in Maldives Sparks Fears of Extremism

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Destruction in Maldives Sparks Fears of Extremism

Article excerpt

An attack on a museum has raised fears that extremists are gaining ground in the Maldives, a Sunni Muslim country believed to have converted to Islam in the 12th century from Buddhism.

Nearly a week after vandals stormed into the National Museum here and destroyed about 30 Buddhist statues -- some dating to the sixth century -- the broken glass has been swept away and the remnants have been locked up. But officials say the loss to this island nation's archaeological legacy can never be made up.

Amid the recent political turmoil that has struck this tiny Indian Ocean nation of 1,200 islands, a half dozen men stormed into the museum on Feb. 7 and ransacked a collection of coral and lime figures, including a six-faced coral statue and a one-and-a-half- foot, or 46-centimeter, wide representation of the Buddha's head. Officials said the men attacked the figures because they believed they were idols and illegal under Islamic and national laws.

There were contradictory reports about whether suspects had been arrested. Mr. Waheed said five men were caught at the museum but a spokesman for the police, Ahmed Shiyam, said Monday that investigators were still collecting evidence and had not made arrests.

The attack has raised fears here that extremists are gaining ground in the Maldives, a Sunni Muslim country that is believed to have converted to Islam in the 12th century from Buddhism. The country has long incorporated elements of Islamic laws in its jurisprudence. Alcohol, pork products and idols cannot be brought into the country.

On the same day that the statues were destroyed, Mohamed Nasheed, who was elected president in 2008 in the country's first democratic election, stepped down in what he said was a coup and what his opponents argue was a voluntary resignation. His departure came after nearly a monthlong protest by Islamic and other opposition political parties, some of whom criticized him for not cracking down on massage parlors that operated as brothels and for proposing that hotels on islands inhabited by Maldivians be allowed to serve alcohol. Currently, only hotels on islands where no Maldivians live or at the airport are allowed to serve alcohol. …

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