"Exhibiting You" - Story

The Mechanics of My Hope

By: nurul alia
Submitted: 03/28/2008

Life for me began with a certain sense of normalcy. It was definitely devoid of any feeling of youthful idealism until September 1998, when my father was wrongfully imprisoned. August of that year saw me as a young teenager without a strong sense of conviction or idealism. They say ignorance is bliss; perhaps that categorically explains much of what I was feeling at that particular time — a time of busy studying and hanging out with friends, unconscious of worldly cares. That month, I wrote a letter to my dear father. It was his birthday present, since there was little choice of material presents in the dusty town of Tronoh, where I was studying. I wrote it while I was ignoring my lectures and missing my family, especially my father. I knew little of my father’s student activism back on campus, except for the things that my uncles and aunts would tell me. Father would often joke about his cabinet experiences — or rather, mishaps — about his leadership at the University Malaya, the famous demonstrations that we kids know so little about. His earlier incarceration in 1974 was never discussed thoroughly with the rest of us. I wondered how he overcame that particular challenge. In my letter, I asked him to tell me about all of these experiences, and I eagerly awaited a response. But, as God had planned it, September 1998 arrived the next month. Before I knew it, ironically, we were living the answers to the questions I asked. Everything happened at once. The world, filled with such innocence and lighthearted candor before, slowly became blurred with uncertainty and apprehension. It was a period of pure darkness and fright, when our only solace came from our belief in God, and the phrase that was constantly repeated was that whatever happens, whatever anyone does to us, God will somehow save us. A small flicker of hope appeared about a week after my father’s detention. Destiny had it that I should travel abroad — to further the cause for reform in my country, to advance the call for justice, and to reach out to the outside world for their support for our efforts to promote democratic reform in Malaysia. It proved to be one of the most difficult and formidable tasks that I have ever had to perform. Challenges and choices present themselves in a most peculiar way. I had to decide whether I would meet with the presidents of Indonesia and the Philippines to ask for their help. I was eighteen years of age, clueless about world politics, and extremely discouraged. But there is beauty in being naïve because you never lose sight of hope — hope for a better tomorrow, or in the Asian context, hope for a more constructive diplomacy. I caught a glimmer of that hope as I shook hands with President Habibie of Indonesia and President Estrada of the Philippines. I remember the risk these leaders took and the kindness they granted to me, the daughter of a prisoner who was wrongfully accused. Yes, maybe it was natural for me to champion my father’s cause, for I am his daughter. But for them, and for the hundreds of thousands of people who have thrown caution to the wind to support our movement for democracy and reform? How did they find the courage to take such risks? Then, stopping myself, I started to remember the many political prisoners through history who have spent each restless night in an empty, dark, and lonely cell. How on earth did they cope with the bleakness of reality? These people had suffered greatly, but their souls remained strong, their convictions harder than steel. And slowly, it came to me. I could no longer hide in my cocoon of safety and not knowing. I had to embrace the challenge of being a voice for change, and accept it as the will of God. For, according to the Koran, “On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than he can bear” (Al-Baqarah, verse 286), and there exists hikmah (wisdom) in every experience that graces our life. As I write this, it has been three years since the imprisonment took place. The reform movement in Malaysia has taken on a quieter tone, with repression of speech, the total government control of mainstream media, and the jailing of opposition leaders. The September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States have led to an increased crackdown on opposition. But all this should not be a seen as a despondent time in the struggle. My heart quaked in fear every time my father made reference to the laboriously long struggle of Nelson Mandela, who spent twenty-seven years in jail before apartheid was successfully abolished. But yet, it did provide a sense of solace and a glimmer of hope for the future. The three years we have spent fighting for reform is not a long time, judging by the normal standards of a struggle, and we will certainly pass through many trials and tribulations before we succeed. “And fight them on, until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah” (Al-Baqarah, verse 193). “And do thou be patient, for thy patience is but from Allah; nor grieve over them, and distress not thyself because of their plots. For Allah is with those who restrain themselves and those who do good” (An-Nahl, verses 127–28). In living through these dark moments, I have found my answers — the answers to the questions I asked my father, and my own answers for life. These experiences have shaped me into who I am now. In some ways, I am not different from the young, impressionable teenage girl I was before. In other ways, everything — from how I greet each coming day to how meaningful a fatherly hug can be — has changed forever. We will all encounter questions in this life — simple questions dealing with the mundane to philosophical questions dealing with the meaning of our existence. The important thing is to remember to reach out for the answers, to try with all our might to fulfill our mission to reinvigorate humanity. Never take happiness, love, justice, and all things virtuous for granted. Hold them dearly within your heart, for in all of these virtues lie the essence of God. And to all this, and so much more, I have one main person to thank and to cherish for the rest of my life — my beloved father, Anwar Ibrahim.

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