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Massive Protest in Cologne: Muslim Minority Marches Against German Crime Show

The popular German TV series "Tatort" has provoked an uproar within a segment of its Turkish community. Alevi Muslims, who practice a tolerant offshoot of Shiism, say the show has revived a centuries-old incest libel and may inflame immigrant tensions in Germany.

Alevi Muslims protest in Cologne by the thousands against a TV show on the German channel ARD. "Why is ARD spreading propaganda for Islamists?" reads the placard.
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Alevi Muslims protest in Cologne by the thousands against a TV show on the German channel ARD. "Why is ARD spreading propaganda for Islamists?" reads the placard.

Up to 20,000 Alevi Muslims in Germany gathered in front of the Cologne cathedral on Sunday to protest a broadcast of a popular TV series called "Tatort" (Crime Scene). Alevi leaders said the show played on a centuries-old prejudice against Alevis by showing a character involved in incest.

The protest "was absolutely peaceful," said a police spokesman according to Agence France-Presse. An Alevi leader in Germany, Mehmet Ali Toprak, told the Tageszeitung newspaper: "The Alevis respect freedom of press and freedom of opinion and are opposed to any ban on cultural expression. But these values must not be used to harm the dignity of a minority."

Alevis are an offshoot of Shi'ites and make up at least a tenth of the estimated 3 million Muslims in Germany. They're a minority in Turkey, where leaders say the Sunni majority discriminates against them for their liberal practices which include allowing women to mix with men in prayer. Their relative tolerance gave rise to a stereotype in the Ottoman Empire that Alevis were prone to incest.

The "Tatort" episode, broadcast by the state-funded ARD channel on December 23, portrays murder and incest within a modern Alevi family in Germany. Hundreds of Alevis demonstrated against the show last week in Berlin, Hanover and Hamburg, but Sunday's protest was unprecedented. The Turkish Daily News reported that around 200 buses had been rented to bring thousands of Alevis from around Europe to Cologne.

Angelina Maccarone, who directed the show, said she was unaware of the Alevi incest libel. Alevi leaders -- including Toprak -- went to Hamburg before the broadcast to complain and ask NDR to repress it. NDR refused, but ran a statement in the opening credits explaining it was fiction.

One protester in Berlin last week, Cigdem Ipek, told SPIEGEL ONLINE: "It's possible that Germans have no prejudice against us. But a film like this can aggravate tension in the Turkish community between Alevis and Sunnis."

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that the episode shouldn't be "an excuse for a cultural war," and that the story dealt with individuals rather than Alevis in general. But he added that scriptwriters had a responsibility to show "respect, discretion, and caution for the religious feelings of all people, regardless of which faith they follow."

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