In a multicultural, multiethnic and multireligious society no citizen has a special right not to be offended. That’s an important precondition to keep democracy alive and safeguard the right to free speech. That doesn’t mean that one gratuitously should offend anyone, though there may be situations when there is no other way to express the content of what an individual wants to say.
This is important in a society where groups with different taboos, histories and codes of conduct live side by side, because no one can be obliged to know everything about every other group and individual and take this into account before one speaks publicly.
This is evident from a recent incident in Germany. December 23 the state funded tv-station ARD broadcasted an episode of the popular show Crime Scene (Tatort), in which murder and incest within a modern Alevi family in Germany takes place.
The Alevis belong to a more tolerant and progressive Muslim minority that has been persecuted in the Middle East because they insist on equality between man and woman and the sexes are allowed to pray together. The Alevis preach tolerance towards people of other faiths and ethnic groups. According to the Alevis in the Ottoman Empire the Sunni Muslims circulated an incest libel against them because of their liberal brand of Islam.
Last Sunday 20.000 Alevi Muslims gathered in front of the Cologne cathedral to protest the broadcast of the crime show. The protest was peaceful.
”The Alevis respect freedom of the press and are opposed to any ban on cultural expression. But these values must not be used to insult the dignity of a minority,” Mehmet Ali Toprak, leader of the Alevi community in Germany, told AFP.
Angelina Maccarone, the director of the episode, said that she wasn’t aware of the Alevi incest libel, and explained that she had no intention what so ever to support any prejudice against the Alevis.
Before the broadcast of the episode Alevi community leaders approached the television network to pursuade it to cancel the show. They refused to do so, but in the opening credits they ran a statement making it clear that the episode was fiction.