The arrest of three French tourists in Sri Lanka over their kissing antics featuring the statue of the Buddha has sparked an international debate on faith and tourism.
Travel may broaden the mind but it does not do much for religious beliefs. With the world now smaller than ever contact between western tourists eager for new experiences and indigenous cultures which are more conservative is producing some friction.
The latest incident is the trial, in Sri Lanka, of three French Tourists, two women and a men, arrested for photographing themselves pretending to kiss the statue of a Buddha. The Buddha is considered sacred throughout Sri Lanka. Its religious inhabitants have, over the 24 months, succeeded in having five Arabs arrested, for similar reasons, stopped R & B star, Akon, from performing, over morality questions and had two enterprising Sri Lankan traders who sold keyring images of the Buddha given suspended sentences.
The latest incident is particular noteworthy because the trio, whose sentence of six months hard labor was suspended by the judge, were not provocative in their behavior. Nor was there any protest made at the time. They were arrested a couple of days later when the owner of the photographic laboratory they went to, to develop their photographs, alerted the police.
The question here, of course, is not so much one of religion as one of open-mindedness. While it’s difficult to draw meaningful lines when it comes to faith and what’s acceptable, prosecuting every infraction irrespective of gravity would appear to be self-defeating for a country trying to promote its image and tourist industry to the world.
The problem here, of course, is one of tolerance and education. On the one hand local populations need to be able to display some tolerance towards foreign visitors who perhaps do not know any better. On the other, visitors to countries where religious faith runs deep should perhaps display a little more sensitivity towards local beliefs.
In the social media age where there is a lot more transparency and even localised incidents get greater international attention the time has come, perhaps, for a little more maturity from both sides.