MANAMA, Bahrain — Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s contention that Western civilization is superior to Islamic culture compounded fears Thursday in the Middle East that America’s war on terrorism will be a war on Islam.
European leaders distanced themselves from Berlusconi’s comments, which came as the United States tries to build a coalition with Islamic countries against terrorism after the Sept. 11 suicide attacks.
Berlusconi’s remarks Wednesday in Berlin “crossed the limits of reason,” Amr Moussa, secretary general of the 22-nation Arab League, said in Cairo, Egypt. “We don’t believe there is a superior civilization, and if he said so he’s utterly mistaken.'”
Coalition-building with Middle East nations already is difficult because many have uneasy truces with homegrown Islamic extremists that easily could be shaken — and moderate Muslims could harden their views if they feel their faith is under attack.
Speaking at a news conference after talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Berlusconi, who is also the topper of media conglom Mediaset said, “We must be aware of the superiority of our civilization, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights and — in contrast with Islamic countries — respect for religious and political rights.” He added hoped “the West will continue to conquer peoples, like it conquered communism.”
In Rome Thursday, Berlusconi met with a group of ambassadors from Muslim countries, including the Saudi ambassador, and with the head of the Islamic Cultural Center in Rome. The prime minister’s office released no details.
Dealing with another nagging issue Thursday, Berlusconi, whose fortune is estimated at more than $10 billion, presented his cabinet with proposed legislation aimed at blunting criticism that he is engaged in conflicts of interest because of his enormous wealth and holdings.
The draft law reportedly proposes setting up a commission to review all ministerial decrees and other legislation passed by the government for potential conflicts of interest. If a conflict is found, the three-member commission would open an investigation and submit its findings to a vote in parliament.