The other day, I was on my scooter, stopped at a traffic light, with several Balinese in temple dress on scooters beside me. As our light turned green, from the cross-direction a siren wailed and horns honked, the usual signal that “we’re coming through.” Instead of the usual VIP motorcade, it was a procession of Muslims, in their mosque attire and waving Islamic flags and thrusting out their hands to halt us, escorting a hearse for a burial.
One of the Balinese glared at them and said with more than irritation, “Bangsat.” This is a Bad Word, which can be translated several ways, including a certain bodily orifice. It wasn’t the badness of the word that threw me back a little, but that it was said at all, and at whom.
Funeral processions like this have always claimed right of way through intersections, and everybody else in the cross-traffic just goes with the flow (or non-flow). This procession wasn’t any different, and I’m sure the escorts/mourners were just your normal respectful hardworking Muslim residents, which are more most Muslims here (and they certainly wait patiently when Balinese religious procession clog the roads and slow traffic to a crawl). But the national news for the past few years have been full of stories of Javanese hardline Muslim militants in full mob mentality, attacking and burning and killing those of other persuasions. Balinese read these news accounts, and fret about the Islamization of their island (if nothing else from the sheer influx of Javanese seeking work). The Balinese have weathered two bomb attacks in the name of Allah by fanatic nutcases, and while they have admirably kept their cool, ethnic and religious tensions are slowly rising, as this minor incident shows. It’s a growing challenge for civic elders and political leaders to manage.
It might have end up having an dramatic effect on surfing on Bali.