BERLIN: German public broadcaster ARD came under fire Monday for allowing a woman wearing a full-face veil to argue on a current affairs talkshow that disillusioned youths could view war-torn Syria as the "promised land".
The popular Sunday night show hosted by Anne Will featured a man who had lost his daughter to the Islamic State group, a lawmaker from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party, an expert on Islam and an imam, discussing the question of "why young people are being radicalised." But most eye-catching was the fifth guest, Nora Illi, the women's representative of an unofficial group called the Islamic Central Committee of Switzerland, who attended the live show in a niqab.
Illi said she had turned to Islam after dabbling with Buddhism because she was "fascinated by Islam's diversity" and argued that "in Islam, women have many rights and possibilities", a statement swiftly challenged by other guests on the show. But it was her view on radicalised youths heading to Syria -- which was detailed on Facebook and shown during the show -- that sparked an outcry.
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Illi argued that youths who head to Syria to wage militancy should be praised as showing "civil courage", according to an excerpt of the text on Facebook. She also told the talkshow that young women "who feel that they have been shut out by society and want to break away could view Syria as the promised land, as the only way out".
Islam expert Ahmad Mansour broke in to protest, saying: "That's propaganda, that's unacceptable on public television". The backlash from the public was also swift, with Twitter users condemning ARD for broadcasting such commentary to millions of viewers.
One Twitter user called Konrad Schaefer said: "Illi justifies Islamic terrorism. That is a scandal. Why was such a rabble-rouser invited?" Jakub Santur commented: "Talkshow guest encouraging holy war on public television, and for that I'm paying television licensing fees -- sad."
Bilkay Oney from the Social Democrats, who was the former integration minister of Baden-Wuerttemberg state, said: "Approval. Provocation. And ratings. Everyone will talk about it tomorrow. Media crisis at a time of talkshow-overkill".
Peter Tauber, general secretary of Merkel's CDU party, was also scathing. "If a woman in a niqab can be presented as a women's representative in a programme on public television, I worry that next we'll see (Syrian president) Mr Assad introduced as a human rights officer on German television," he said. But the show's producer, NDR, defended its decision to put Illi on, saying that her "controversial attitude over the departure of young people to Syria was clearly expressed and debated".
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