I have just emailed Ayatollah Sistani the Christmas card reproduced below the fold. If you think like me that Sistani is a good man who deserves our moral support, you too can write to him at email@example.com. My frame of reference here is specifically Christian so my wording won’t be to everyone’s taste.
Dear Ayatollah Sistani:
It is a good tradition in my own country to send greetings to one’s friends and relations at the season when we celebrate the birth to Mary of Jesus of Nazareth: the man whom (as I understand it) Jews respect as a teacher and martyr, Muslims revere as a prophet, and Christians adore as the redeeming Prince of Peace foretold by Isaiah.
You are a stranger to me, and a leader in a different faith, yet I and many like me recognize you as a man of principle and courage who has striven to guide your suffering countrymen, lost in their bitter conflicts, onto the unmapped paths of dialogue and peace. The state of your country, thrown open by folly to madness and wickedness, is indeed dreadful. As a British citizen and resident of Spain, I am ashamed – though guiltless – of the part the governments of both countries, and leaders who call themselves Christians, have played in the ruin of Iraq.
In this darkness, men and women of good will must surely be tempted by despair. One attempt after another to end the strife has failed. You are one of the brave few who continue the struggle. It would I suppose be natural for you share the fatalism of Prince William of Orange, who five hundred years ago was the patient leader of the long Dutch revolt against foreign oppression and fanaticism. He is supposed to have said at the nadir of his cause:
It is not necessary to hope in order to begin,
nor to succeed in order to persevere.
William did not live to see the Netherlands win its independence and in the following century become the most free, the most tolerant and the most prosperous country in Europe.
Christmas in our Western countries has become a festival of innocent pleasures: cheerful self-indulgence in good food and drink, candles and lights in streets and homes, family reunions and gifts, a general feeling of sentimental goodwill. Cut off from the reality of evil in the world, it loses its religious point. We forget here, as you cannot, the truth recalled in a fine old American carol — composed in 1849, in the aftermath of another bitterly controversial imperial adventure, the Mexican War:
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song that they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.
What message can I send you then from a comfortable distance, before I set off to see my daughters again, share a family dinner and exchange anxiously chosen and carefully wrapped gifts we do not strictly speaking need? Only the words of Saint John, addressed to Christians, but drawing surely on a hope shared in different ways by all the peoples of the Book:
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overpower it.