When football star Cristiano Ronaldo posted a picture on Instagram reclining casually against a Buddha statue, his picture provoked immediate indignation. Buddhist practitioners around the world condemned the picture and said that Ronaldo should apologise for ‘disrespecting’ Buddhism.
A similar picture this time has surfaced on social media where a bikini-clad woman has climbed on the lap of a Buddha statue. The reactions to this particular picture have been more intense and are laced with violent threats, mostly from Buddhist practitioners.
For anyone to display such intense emotion over a seemingly ‘insensitive’ picture clicked in bad taste beats the essence of what Buddhism is all about, especially when the online abuser is a Buddhist practitioner himself/herself. Religious offense is not an overused concept as it is widely accepted because the consequences of these actions are far-reaching and deteriorating to the health of the particular religion itself.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently said that any blasphemous content on social media against religious groups will not be tolerated. This advocacy of intolerance towards seemingly inconsequential things portend for a more constricting space where one is afraid of voicing one’s opinion.
Buddhism in Myanmar can be made an example of in this case. Although large numbers of people do not support violence against Rohingya Muslims, the state’s involvement in open persecution has paved way for religious intolerance. A picture has also surfaced on Facebook where a banner reads that disrespect to the Buddha statue is punishable by law.
The consequences from someone disrespecting a symbolic idol are usually meaningless except for the reaction from the people who display fierce adulation for the idol.