- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2001

It may be that the most successful movement ever to have swept the West is the drive to eradicate discrimination. Racism, of course, is out. Sexism is out also. While "ageism" has never really caught on as anathema, practitioners of what is known as "lookism" (and even "species-ism") can no longer gaze upon Venus de Milo (or chicken cordon bleu) without a guilty pang or two. In the increasingly expansive name of tolerance and equality, Western civilization has managed to call the very concept of superiority into doubt.

But what happens when the West goes farther still and calls the superiority of tolerance and equality into doubt? That, in effect, is what happened last week after the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, ignited a diplomatic firestorm in Berlin while meeting with the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, and the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin.

Whatever the three leaders had to say about global terrorism was lost in the glare of Mr. Berlusconi's bombshell. "We should be confident of the superiority of our civilization," the Italian leader declared, "which consists of a value system that has given people widespread prosperity in those countries that embrace it, and guarantees respect for human rights and religion. This respect certainly does not exist in Islamic countries."

Tsk, tsk. By letting such unvarnished statements pass his lips thus replacing them with his foot Mr. Berlusconi set off a chain reaction of outrage and eyeball-rolling disbelief across Europe and the Middle East. "I can hardly believe that the Italian prime minister made such statements," huffed Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian premier and current European Union president. Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, condemned the prime minister's remarks as nothing less than "racist" and added that Mr. Berlusconi had "crossed the limits of reason and decency." From a seat beside Mr. Moussa at a Cairo news conference, Louis Michel, leader of the (to date) spectacularly unsuccessful EU mission to win Arab support for the anti-terrorism coalition, characterized Mr. Berlusconi's statement as "totally contradicting the values in which we believe."

Which ones the widespread prosperity, the respect for human rights, or the respect for religion? However, shall we say, impolitic Mr. Berlusconi's remarks were, any rational comparison of representative democracy and Muslim theocracy is bound to hand it to representative democracy every time unless, that is, one-party rule, draconian penal codes and intolerance of dissent is your idea of heaven on Earth. And that's not even taking into account more "extreme" Islamic states such as Afghanistan, where, for example, women have no rights, property, education or even medical treatment and adultery is a capital offense (punished by stoning).

In its own universities. There, the West has long been demoted to just another exploitative power scheme, not better and often worse than other exploitative power schemes. Such relativist gamesmanship may have made for thrilling classroom clashes during the so-called "culture wars," but the stakes are higher now, indeed, as a real war on the West breaks out.

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