Bali: Security to the max in the land of inner peace and harmony

NUSA DUA, Bali — A word about security in Bali. In a land of happy faces, in a religion where the centerpiece is peace and tranquility, Bali has some trappings of an island at war.

Security is everywhere. The hotel shuttle takes me through two huge gates where armed security guards open the door and check inside. A man with a large round mirror at the end of a long pole, kind of like a very weird putter, scans the car’s chassis. A big black dog trained to sniff for explosives wags his tongue nearby. A black police car emblazoned with “TOURIST POLICE” is parked by the gate.

I get to the hotel’s front door and I must put any electronic material — camera, cell phone, recorder — through a security camera. I then walk through a scanner where a female guard waves a wand up and down my body. The other day I saw soldiers with Uzis patrolling outside the grounds.

The Courtyard Nusa Dua in Bali takes security seriously after the 2002 bombings in Kuta
The Courtyard Nusa Dua in Bali takes security seriously after the 2002 bombings in Kuta

This is Bali, where Julia Roberts found love at last and millions have found salvation from Indian healers in Ubud. It’s where the people say thank you by bowing¬†with their hands in prayer.

It makes sense, really. Picture a Hindu island in the middle of the world’s largest Islamic nation during a time when Islamic extremism is an every day presence. The Kuta bombings of 2002 have¬†put Bali on terrorist alert and no corner of society here is immune to it. In Kuta, every one of the thousands of youths who entered the Sky Garden Lounge Thursday night got patted down by the beefiest security guards Bali has to offer. Terrorists never hit the same place twice but the security’s presence makes every Balinese and visitor know that the threat is there.

This isn’t just from 2002. Terrorism hit Bali again in 2005. On Oct. 1 of that year, three suicide bombers blew up a restaurant on Kuta Square and two more took down beach cafes in Jimbaran, where I had a lovely dinner Thursday night, with my toes in the sand and staring out at the Indian Ocean. Again, Jemaah Islamiyah took credit with documents showing they were targeting tourists. Instead, 15 of the 20 died were Indonesian employees.

This Abu Bakar Bashir sounds like a real prince. The radical cleric who was behind the 2002 and ’05 bombings, formed a new group in 2008 and it was tied to hotel bombings in Jakarta in 2009. He was arrested in 2010.

I’m just wondering if he ever experienced this Bali Courtyard. Maybe a time on one of the lanais chairs or a taste of one of the swim-up-bar smoothies would convince him that decadent slothness isn’t a bad way to spend your day.