IF you didn’t follow the news over the last one week, you wouldn’t know that the first-floor shoplot in Taman Medan in Petaling Jaya was the centre of a controversy.At 4.38pm on Thursday, it was void of activity.
The corner-lot church is one of the two dozen shoplots on Jalan PJS 2B/3, where only four shops are open – a 24-hour self-service laundry, a snooker centre, a karaoke joint and a newly-opened gym.
On Sunday, about 50 people including Datuk Abdullah Abu Bakar, the elder brother of Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, staged a protest against the church after the congregation put up a cross on the building.
Gathering at about 10am while church service was going on, the protesters contended that the sight of the cross in a largely Muslim area challenged Islam and could influence younger minds.
They were later pacified by Abdullah, who spoke to the church pastor. The church then took down the cross.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi have said if the protest was seditious, the protesters would be subjected to the Sedition Act.
The shoplots, next to the New Pantai Expressway connecting Bangsar to Subang Jaya, were completed about two years ago. Known as Metro Square, the commercial lots look out of place amongst the dilapidated pigeonhole flats.
“Why are the shops vacant?” I asked Balan, a 60-something Taman Medan community mediator who did not want to be named.
“It is hidden. Not safe. There are gangsters. And there are drug addicts,” said Balan as he drove me around the notorious Taman Medan that saw racial clashes between Indians and Malays in 2001.
I called a real estate agent who told me the shops were vacant because of “high rental” and there was only one entrance to the commercial lots.
About 100m from the church, I met a tudung-wearing 18-year-old girl who lived in one of the pigeonhole flats. I asked her what she thought about the controversy.
“For my sister (24 years old and studying in a polytechnic), she’s not comfortable with the cross as it is next to a public place (self-service laundry). Now that it is no longer there, she is more comfortable,” said the teenager who studies in the nearby SMK Datuk Harun.
“For me, there is nothing wrong with the cross. We, Muslims, are allowed to build surau everywhere so what is wrong if they have a church here?”
Earlier, Balan drove me around Taman Datuk Harun and Taman Medan to give me an idea of why the “cross” protest happened. The income levels of the residents – who are 75% Malays and 20% Indians – are low and medium.
“Some owners build beyond their property,” said Balan, who has been living in Taman Medan for 40 years, pointing at extensively renovated double-storey houses that cost about RM25,000 in the early 1980s and are now valued at RM150,000 to RM200,000.
“There are people here who do not care about regulations. They simply extend their house. MBPJ (Petaling Jaya City Council) is not doing anything about it.”
Some of the residents could not care less about the law, said Balan.
I asked him what triggered the “cross” protest.
“They saw something they were not happy with so they created a problem.
“It is political,” he said.
After the drive, we met Rosli, a 55-year-old Taman Medan community mediator, at Restoran Nasi Kandar Nur Alif about a kilometre from the church.
Rosli (not his real name) disagreed that the protest was political.
“The majority of the people living in the flats (near the church) are Muslims. They are okay with the church. But maybe the cross was too big,” he said. “When the cross is too big, there is sensitivity.”
He continued: “The mistake is they protested. They should just send a representative to quietly resolve the issue.
“We, Malays and Indians are like abang adik (brothers). We fight for the moment but then it is resolved. In everyday life we are okay with our Indian and Chinese friends,” he said.
“But I don’t see many Chinese here,” I said.
“They live at nearby (affluent) Bandar Sunway,” he said.
Rosli ranted about the social problems in the area.
“MBPJ allows the residents to break council regulations. Houses are turned into business premises, illegal stalls are set up everywhere, even on road shoulders,” he said.
“This adds to the tension, the tension accumulates and then it manifests into anger against the cross.
“We also have a squatter mentality here as some of the residents used to live in squatter houses,” he said.
“They are not open-minded. Emotional. They don’t follow rules. Even their previous (squatter) house was built on land that they did not own.”
Rosli said lack of space also created social problems.
“A family with five kids lives in a two-bedroom flat. It is not comfortable to live in a crowded house so the kids release their tension by riding motorcycles around without a helmet, licence or road tax,” he said.
At 5.24pm, Rosli nudged me to indicate that Petaling Jaya Selatan Umno information chief Munaliza Hamzah had just strolled into the nasi kandar restaurant.
During the protest, Munaliza held a placard stating: “Wakil Rakyat DUN Taman Medan Tidur (Taman Medan assemblyman Haniza Mohamed Talha of PKR is sleeping).” Munaliza was the Barisan Nasional losing candidate for the Taman Medan state seat in the 2008 general elections.
I said hello to Munaliza. “I’m going to the police station to give my statement at 6pm,” she said.
When I was done with my interviews, I drove to the church to get a last look. A motorcyclist almost knocked my car. The driver glared angrily at me.
My heart skipped a beat. Thank God that there was no accident. I could have become hot news for the wrong reason.
>The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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