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Berlusconi's Remarks Draw Criticism - 2001-09-27

A remark by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that Western civilization is superior to Islam has drawn fire in Italy, criticism from the European Union and indignation in the Arab world. Critics of Mr. Berlusconi say his remark risks undermining Western efforts to build a coalition with Muslim countries to fight global terrorism.

The controversial statement by Mr. Berlusconi was made during a briefing he held Wednesday with Italian reporters in Berlin after emerging from talks with the leaders of Germany and Russia on the war against terrorism.

The reporters say he told them that the West's system of values is superior to that of the Islamic world because it guarantees freedom, respect for human rights and religious tolerance, adding that such values do not exist in Islamic civilization.

Mr. Berlusconi's remarks were immediately criticized by Italy's center-left opposition as being inappropriate, inflammatory and irresponsible. Giovanni Berlinguer, a leading member of the opposition, accused the billionaire businessman-turned-politician of trying to fuel a clash of civilizations. Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, the head of the Green Party, urged the prime minister to immediately retract his statement.

There was criticism, too, from Belgium, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt deplored Mr. Berlusconi's remarks, saying they can have dangerous consequences and feed a feeling of humiliation, thus harming efforts to build a global anti-terrorism coalition. Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel denounced the Italian prime minister's remarks as unacceptable and culturally outdated. He says they are contrary to European values and beliefs.

The reaction in the Arab world was also strong. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Mussa says the Italian leader's remarks show that he needs to learn more about Islamic civilization. He says there is no such thing as a superior civilization. The Arab League says it wants an apology.

In Bahrain, the English-language Bahrain Tribune says sarcastically in a front-page editorial that Mr. Berlusconi's superior European civilization has plundered dozens of countries and killed millions of people in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

European Union External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten says the West should remember that the Islamic world has never been responsible for a holocaust.