29 September 2001
Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, battered by universal criticism for his remark about the West's cultural superiority to Islam, Friday, went on the offensive. He told parliament his words were poorly translated, misinterpreted and quoted out of context. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.
"Tactless," "irresponsible" and "inappropriate" was how many in Italy described the Italian Prime Minister's comments about Western civilization's superiority to Islam. One voice summed up how most of the Prime Minister's opponents viewed his words. The leader of the former center-left government, Massimo D'Alema, said "Mr. Berlusconi is most effective when he shuts up." A storm of criticism erupted after remarks made by Mr. Berlusconi in Berlin earlier this week. "We should be confident 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," he said. "This respect certainly does not exist in Islamic countries". The European Union and Muslim leaders alike denounced Mr. Berlusconi's remarks, while the Arab League called on the head of the Italian government either to deny having made the comments or offer an apology. Speaking in Italy's upper house of parliament Friday, Mr. Berlusconi defended himself, saying his words had been distorted and misinterpreted. He added that he had not meant to give offence. "An artificial controversy has blown up, based on nothing," Mr. Berlusconi said, adding, "I am sorry that a few words dragged out of the general context, badly interpreted, have offended the sensibility of my Arab and Moslem friends". Just hours earlier, the NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson, speaking in Rome, also played down Mr. Berlusconi's comments about Islam. He said the Italian prime minister shared the NATO's view that any response to the terrorist attacks in the United States was "not a clash of civilizations." Mr. Berlusconi plans to meet next week with diplomatic representatives of Islamic countries based in Rome