Tragedy in Bali is a Stark Reminder to Travel Humbly
Late yesterday morning, former MMA fighter and French national Amokrane Sabet was shot dead by Balinese police in Berawa after he fatally stabbed officer Anak Agung Putu Sudiarta.
For months, tension had been building between Sabet and the locals and bule (foreigners) who call Canggu home. The 49-year-old resident was notorious in the area due to his intimidating appearance and erratic behaviour. Fear of the man primarily manifested itself in the form of online gossip in the Canggu Community Facebook group, where complaints centring on Sabet’s refusal to pay business owners, noncompliance with police and general menacing of the public were rampant.
But while some accused him of making lewd comments and death threats, he was not without his friends and supporters. Anecdotes of Sabet engaging in friendly chatter and even paying for people’s groceries when they were short on cash were not uncommon. It was also speculated that he was in “desperate” need of mental heath care, as he had a God complex and was under the impression he was a messiah.
The former fighter was well-known to police, and was recently described by local newspaper Tribune Bali as a “community security concern” after he ignored court summonses and threats of deportation.
According to Police Chief Inspector General Sugeng Priyanto, in response to the mounting unease, local authorities went to Sabet’s house in Berawa early yesterday to arrest him. Brandishing a knife and disregarding fired warning shots, Sabet resisted arrest before stabbing police officer Anak Agung Putu Sudiarta eight times in the neck, chest and thigh. Sabet was then shot dead by police.
Unsurprisingly, the online community has gone wild. Extremely graphic footage of the incident is circulating, in which 14 shots are heard going off before a final one is administered into Sabet’s twitching body by the gunman as police yell, “Udah, udah (stop, stop)!” A Facebook status eerily posted to Sabet’s personal page several hours after his death has been shared hundreds of times, tributes are flowing in and speculation on the former fighter’s history, motives and mental health is rife.
What happened was an utter tragedy for everyone involved, especially the policeman and his family, but also for Sabet, whose apparent inability to integrate with the Canggu community and live harmoniously ultimately caused his demise.
Canggu is a relaxed village in Bali where rice paddies meet the ocean. As someone who has lived there and regularly averted Sabet’s gaze at the local deli – out of paranoia more than anything else – I was shocked but not surprised when I found out he attacked a police officer and was subsequently killed. Sabet’s intimidating stature and persona make it hard to see him as a victim, but living as foreigner with a mental illness in a place so utterly unprepared for it meant he was obviously in need of help. But sick or not, ultimately, his death serves as a harsh reminder of how not to behave when you move to another country.
Though most locals and foreigners in Canggu have a good relationship, the sight of ignorant bule tearing down quiet streets on scooters drunk, helmetless and unlicensed is commonplace. Tourists will swear and argue with police when they are charged for driving offences, toss cigarette butts in rice paddies and ride over Canung sari (Balinese offerings) without care.
In the most obscene way, however unintentional, Sabet took this disrespect to the next level. He neglected to conform to the social and cultural etiquette of the place in which he lived, and constantly exhibited behaviour in disrespect of local laws, customs and courtesy. If nothing else, his shooting is a sad and stark wake-up call to anyone who travels, both to Indonesia and beyond: show respect for the place you’re in and the people who inhabit it.
Update: An autopsy conducted by Sanglah Forensics Lab has revealed Sabet died not from gunshot wounds, but from a punctured windpipe, which Inspector General Sugeng Priyanto believes resulted from Sabet’s own knife during his struggle with an unarmed Sudiarta. Police are currently investigating the incident.