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Jewish World Review Oct. 8, 2001 / 21 Tishrei 5762

Don Feder

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Berlusconi backs western civilization -- ITALIAN Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's comment that Western civilization is superior to Islamic culture, while obvious to all whose minds aren't locked in a prison of political correctness, took guts to say.

That Europeans reacted to Berlusconi -- a bright light on a continent of dim bulbs -- with outrage and horror is symptomatic of the malaise afflicting the West.

"We should be conscious of the superiority of our civilization, which consists of a value system that has given people widespread prosperity ... and guarantees respect for human rights and religion," Berlusconi told a group of journalists. "This respect certainly does not exist in Islamic countries."

"I can hardly believe Mr. Berlusconi made such remarks," wailed Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who assured us the European Union "is based on values such as multiculturalism and the meeting of different civilizations."

For Europe's elite, it is a matter of faith that all cultures are created equal. Thus, a civilization that gave the world democracy, civil liberties and the industrial revolution and computer age is judged no better than a culture where democracy is unknown, rights non-existent, tribal bloodshed the norm and a few live in palaces while most inhabit hovels.

Democracy is as alien to the Islamic world as Jimmy Dean's pork sausage. There are one-party regimes (Syria, Libya, Iraq, the Sudan, Afghanistan), oligarchies with parliamentary facades (Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, the Palestinian Authority), military dictatorships (Pakistan) and traditional Islamic regimes (Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Gulf states).

In the West, the opposition is represented. In the East, it's interred. In 1970, Jordan's King Hussein crushed PLO forces, killing 20,000 in a week. In 1982, the late Hafez Assad of Syria liquidated the entire city of Hama, center of a Sunni revolt. In 1998, the Taliban systematically slaughtered thousands of ethnic Hasara -- some had their throats cut, others were suffocated inside metal containers. An estimated 100,000 have died in Algeria's decade-old civil war.

The Taliban judge presiding over the trail of Western aid workers accused of Christian proselytizing says they'll get a fair trial. Would that be before or after he hangs them? In our new ally, Pakistan, a professor is on death row for contradicting orthodox Moslem teaching. In Egypt, Saad Eddin Ibrahim was sentenced to seven years hard labor for "defaming" the nation by documenting persecution of Coptic Christians.

A friend of mine, a Pakistani lawyer, was asked to lecture to an American audience on religious tolerance in the Islamic world. "I told them it does not exist," he laughingly informed me.

On this point, you won't get an argument from Christians and animists in Sudan, Jews and Bahais in Iran, Serbs in Kosovo, Hindus in Afghanistan or Christians in Indonesia (subjected to a campaign of forced conversion).

Diversity and tolerance aren't the only things in short supply in this part of the world, which has little of value except oil -- a resource discovered and developed by Westerners.

Egypt doesn't give America $2 billion annually in foreign aid. Italians don't enter North Africa illegally seeking a better life. One reason fundamentalists loathe Western capitalism is the vivid contrast it provides to their backwardness.

Islam made significant contributions to science and mathematics -- roughly a millennium ago. More recently, it has enriched humanity with such concepts as jihad, fatwa, clitorectomies, "honor killings" (of female relations accused of sex outside marriage), amputating limbs as punishment for various offenses and suicide bombings.

The 19 men accused of perpetrating the horrors of Sept. 11 all had names like Ahmed and Muhammad. Would you believe it, there wasn't a Shawn or Seymour among them.

If the Arab League is offended by this assessment -- well, I don't see any paeans to our culture penned by the mullahs or imams. They're too busy denouncing Western decadence, economics and political systems.

Only the West is afflicted with self-doubt. Only we have succumbed to the doctrine of cultural equivalence.

When America went to war with Nazism and Japanese militarism, it was with the unshakeable conviction that Judeo-Christian culture was superior to these throwbacks to the Dark Ages. Those who would defend civilization must first acknowledge that it is preferable to the alternative.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate