Reading Raja Nazrin’s recent speeches, he brings to mind King Cyrus the Great of Persia (present day Iran). In 539 BC, after Cyrus conquered Babylon (now called Iraq), he declared the very first Human Rights Charter at his coronation as the King of Babylon.
This Cyrus Cylinder, enshrined in baked clay, is now kept at the British Museum in London. It was discovered in 1878 in an excavation site at Babylon. In it, Cyrus the Great described his humane treatment of the inhabitants of Babylonia after conquest by the Iranians.
The document has been hailed as the first charter of human rights and in 1971 the United Nations published translations of it in all the official UN languages. The Charter of Freedom of Humankind issued by Cyrus the Great on his coronation day in Babylon is considered by many scholars as equivalent to, if not superior, to the Human Rights Manifesto issued by the French revolutionaries at their first national assembly.
The Human Rights Manifesto was notable in several respects but the Charter of Freedom issued twenty three centuries before that by the Iranian monarch appears to be more spiritual in its pronouncements. On Dec 10, 2003, in her acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, Shirin Ebadi evoked Cyrus, saying: ‘… I am an Iranian, a descendant of Cyrus the Great.
This emperor proclaimed at the pinnacle of power 2,500 years ago that he ‘would not reign over the people if they did not wish it.’ He promised not to force any person to change his religion and faith and guaranteed freedom for all. The Charter of Cyrus the Great should be studied in the history of human rights’.
Today, as I read both the first Charter of Human Rights and Raja Nazrin’s speeches, I am struck by how similar they are in their appeal to the higher values of society and in their defence of the rights of all members of society, including minorities.
After 50 years of independence, in the midst of so much recent acrimony over an increasing number of divisive issues and controversies, I find it especially gratifying and I am sure all Malaysians do too to hear the calm, cool and collected voice of the Raja Muda of Perak and to find the rationality, reason and incisiveness so often missing from the words of other leaders.
My special wish is that Raja Nazrin’s recent speech on ‘National Development and Nationhood’ made at the recent Khazanah National Development Leadership Seminar be made required reading for all Malaysian politicians, in particular those that take up extremist positions or pander to racial or religious politics.
What was most reassuring about the speech – which contained many important insights into the state of our nation today – was his view that the role of the monarchy in Malaysia is to help uphold justice, maintain peace and resolve conflicts between contending parties and to ‘function as the voice of reason, moderation and good governance, especially if there is extremism or chauvinism’.
This function what was emphasised as the proper constitutional role of the monarchy in line with both the spirit and letter of our constitution is needed now perhaps more than ever in our nation’s history. I am sure all Malaysians will rally around this important bulwark of our nationhood and democracy in the difficult times ahead.