Recently some French tourists in Sri Lanka were given a suspended jail sentence and fined for mistreating a statue of the Buddha. The crime came to light when the tourists had photographs printed in a local photo lab, and the business owner alerted the police. I'm betting the French crew will go strictly digital in the future.
The photographs showed the tourists posing with temple Buddha statues and pretending to kiss one of them. So, folks, rule: In Sri Lanka, please don't kiss the Buddha.
I've come across some web discussions of this incident in which people were outraged that the French tourists were charged with anything at all, even though their jail sentence was suspended. Religious oppression of free speech! But I'd ask everyone to consider the incident from the perspective of Sri Lanka.
From early in the 16th century to well into the 20th century Sri Lanka was dominated by Europeans. Aggressive Christian missions had nearly destroyed Buddhism in Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) by the 19th century. I understand Buddhist art and relics were destroyed (see "The Buddha's Tooth").
The last European power to hold Ceylon as a colony was Britain, and the British government encouraged and supported Christian missionaries in Ceylon. The British believed Christianity would have a "civilizing" effect on the "natives."
In the 19th century a Sinhalese monk named Mohottivatte Gunananda (1823-1890) began to challenge the Christian missionaries. His work began a revival of Buddhism in Ceylon that would be joined by other monks as well as the highly unlikely Henry Steel Olcott. Olcott's Sinhalese nickname -- the White Buddhist -- illustrates the racial aspects that underscored the "Buddhism versus Christianity" struggle in Ceylon.
The Buddhist revival in Ceylon/Sri Lanka morphed into a political liberation movement. The last armed uprising was in 1971; Sri Lanka gained complete independence from Britain in 1972. Given this history, which isn't so ancient, is it any wonder that the Sinhalese would be a bit twitchy about Europeans disrespecting the Buddha?
There's also the matter of disrespect for Asian culture. Even if the French tourists are not themselves religious, how would they feel if some visiting Japanese were seen groping a statue of the Blessed Virgin inside Notre Dame de Chartres?
I often have issues with much of the Sinhalese Buddhist establishment, but in this case I have to say I understand how the Sinhalese must feel.