Italian prime minister's remarks on inferiority of Islam draw outcry

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A declaration by the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, that Western civilization is superior to the culture of the Islamic world drew a furious outcry yesterday in Italy, Europe and beyond.

The West, given the superiority of its values, "is bound to occidentalize and conquer new people," he said Wednesday in Berlin.

"It has done it with the communist world and part of the Islamic world, but unfortunately, a part of the Islamic world is 1,400 years behind. From this point of view, we must be conscious of the strength and force of our civilization," he said.

Francesco Rutelli, the leader of the center-left Italian opposition coalition, Daisy, called the comments absurd and ill-timed.

The head of Italian Jewish organizations, Amos Luzzatto, told the newspaper La Repubblica, "In my opinion, one cannot speak of the superiority of one culture over another."

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt was strongly critical, saying Berlusconi's remarks could have dangerous consequences.

In Cairo, Egypt, Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, said: "Either a denial is issued that he did not utter this, or an apology should be offered to the Muslim nation of more than 1 billion people. I consider his remarks racist ... he has crossed the limits of reason and decency."

The Iranian foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, denounced Berlusconi's statements, saying, "These remarks are the result of the Italian prime minister's ignorance about Islam's culture and civilization and its fundamental impact on Western civilization."

In Rome, Berlusconi's spokesman defended him, saying he could not be accused of insulting Islam after having "fought for the participation of moderate Arab countries in the alliance against terrorism" and called for a solution to the crisis in the Middle East.

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