Christmas card to Ayatollah Sistani

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 My frame of reference here is specifically Christian so my wording won’t be to everyone’s taste.

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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.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

4 thoughts on “Christmas card to Ayatollah Sistani”

  1. Yeah,
    Good luck with that. I find the letter unbelievably self congratulatory and obtuse,but then, I'm not the intended recipient. I think "so long and thanks for all the fish" more accurately reflects the attitude the letter expresses. Writing to someone like Sistani in a language and about a history whose details and fine points (the 1849 mexican war? you think he's got his copy of Thoreau handy to explore how some americans felt about that?) he cannot possibly grasp seems condescending and, well, insulting. Its definitelyall about the writer, and not at all about the recipient. But maybe that is the way with most christmas cards?

  2. Three thousand years of montheistic belief. Not shred of proof. Plenty of war tho'.
    Pax, Steve

  3. Three thousand years of montheistic belief. Not shred of proof. Plenty of war tho'.
    Pax, Steve

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