Jewish World Review Oct. 8, 2001 /21 Tishrei, 5762
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE most successful movement ever to have swept the West may be 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 further 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 while in Berlin to meet with 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 Berlusconi's bombshell. It wasn't just that he predicted the West is "bound to occidentalize and conquer new people" as it had already "done with the Communist world and part of the Islamic world." The Italian leader also declared, "We should be confident of the superiority of our civilization, 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," he added, "certainly does not exist in Islamic countries."
Tsk, tsk. By letting such unvarnished truths pass his lips -- thus replacing them with his foot -- 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" -- odd, considering the multi-racial appeal of Islam -- and added that Berlusconi had "crossed the limits of reason and decency." From a seat beside Moussa at a Cairo news conference, Louis Michel, leader of the (to date) spectacularly unsuccessful European Union bid to win Arab support for the anti-terrorism coalition, characterized Berlusconi's statement as "totally contradicting the values in which we believe."
Which ones: widespread prosperity, respect for human rights, or respect for religion? However, shall we say, impolitic Berlusconi's remarks may have been, any rational comparison between representative democracy and Muslim theocracy is bound to favor 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 women have no rights, property, education, or even medical treatment, and adultery, for example, is a capital offense (by stoning).
It looks as if something besides an unwelcome intrusion of reality motivates Berlusconi's critics, something perhaps related to the decades during which Western Civilization has come under attack in its own universities. There, the West has been demoted to just another exploitative power scheme, not better and often worse than other exploitative power schemes.
Ten years ago, as dean of Yale College, history professor Donald Kagan addressed this often one-sided struggle. Western Civilization's "flaws are real enough," he said, "but they are common to almost all civilizations known on any continent at any time in human history. What is remarkable about the Western heritage ... is the important ways in which it has departed from the common experience." Enumerating the West's varied attributes, perhaps chief among them the assertion of the claims of the individual against those of the state, Kagan went on to note that, "at its core is a tolerance and respect for diversity unknown in most cultures. One of its most telling characteristics is its encouragement of criticism of itself and its ways. Only in the West can one imagine a movement to neglect the culture of one's heritage in favor of some other."
Kagan, of course, was reflecting on the toll of what became known as the "culture wars." At the time, this was largely an academic exercise. Now, as a real war on the West breaks out, the stakes are suddenly not only higher, but the outcome -- the future -- seems to depend as much on the West's faith in itself as its
JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.