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Culture

Opinion: Even an extremist should have a voice on German TV

The German press is outraged after a radical Muslim appeared in a niqab on German TV. Is her appearance propaganda for "IS"? Not at all, says DW's Susanne Spröer. The other Muslim guests made sure it wasn't.

Sunday evening in Germany. Millions of people turn their televisions to the public broadcaster channel ARD at 8:15 pm on the dot to watch the popular weekly crime series, "Tatort," which has been running for 46 years straight.

The show almost always tackles current social issues. This week, "Tatort" was set in Kiel in northern Germany, where detectives were looking into a murder case. But that was just half the story. The 90-minute film was actually about a girl who was won over by radical Islamists and wanted to join the "IS" in Syria.

The talk show that followed "Tatort," named after its host Anne Will, picked up the issue of why young people in Europe are increasingly turning to radical Islam. The show's five guests included Sascha Mané, whose 18-year-old daughter is now in Syria, Imam Mohamed Taha Sabri from Berlin, psychologist Ahmed Mansour (who was radicalized as a young man), and German parliamentarian Wolfgang Bosbach.

The fifth guest was a young woman in a black niqab. Only her eyes were visible through a slit in her head covering. Nora Illi, a Swiss convert to Islam, was introduced as the women's representative of the "Islamic Central Council of Switzerland," a dubious fundamentalist institution. Host Anne Will emphasized that the group does not fulfill any official role of representing Swiss Muslims. Illi's husband Quaasim is the council's spokesman and board member.

Talk show guest glorified war in Syria

It's an irritating image: A talk show, in which people share their opinions and express parts of their personality, has a guest whose facial expressions and body language are hidden behind black cloth.

Wildly gesticulating and rubbing her hands together, the now 32-year-old explained how she converted to Islam as an 18-year-old and began wearing the niqab a year later. For her, it meant "self-determination" and "freedom," she said - which seems hard to believe. But her story gets even more intense.

Sproeer Susanne

Susanne Spröer heads DW's online culture department

When Anne Will asks what she would advise parents of youths who have joined the "IS," she recounted the story of a young woman who ran off to Syria after being refused an apprenticeship due to her headscarf.

On the website of the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland, Illi writes that the struggle against Assad's henchmen in Syria should be "highly praised as moral courage," even though war is a "difficult long-term test," which young people should be aware of.

Is that propaganda?

When that statement was quoted in the talk show, psychologist Ahmed Mansour spoke up. "That's propaganda. You can't say that on public television," he exclaimed. Over five million people were watching live.

Many German newspapers agree with Mansour. How can such a radical demagogue be given a forum and a mass audience? The murders and massacres committed by the "IS," its crimes against civilians and non-partisans - is all that little more than a "difficult long-term test" for Western youths?

Even though Anne Will tried to give everyone time to speak, which is her job as talk show host, the other guests were upset to hear what Nora Illi had to say in the name of Islam - particularly the other three Muslim guests. Ahmend Mansour emphasized that he does not identify with Illi's interpretation of Islam.

Sascha Mené, the father of the teenage girl who has gone to Syria, shared his own story, pointing out that young people who want to improve the world just land in the wrong hands.

Exactly - people like Nora Illi, who glorifies life in a war zone as some kind of twisted heroism.

Anne Will was reserved with her own opinions and did her job: moderating the discussion. The self-contradictions in Illi's arguments were evident enough to the viewers.

We need to hear all positions to form an opinion

Unlike in the US or Great Britain, it's unusual to hear extremist ideas in German media. But it's right. To develop an informed opinion, we have to know all the positions - even the extreme ones. That's the only way to make a decision and become for or against an issue or viewpoint.

Even though it's painful to listen to her (without even being able to properly see her), radical Muslims like Nora Illi should be permitted to express their opinions in a German talk show. The creators of the show invited guests with other opinions to make sure her statements didn't come across as propaganda.

Since it was a live show, it was admittedly a risk to invite someone like Illi, not knowing exactly what she or the other guests would say on camera. But it was a calculated risk and the plan worked. The other four guests, particularly the three Muslims in the show, protested more vehemently against Illi than would have been possible for the host.

Without pointing a finger, the talk show guests made it abundantly clear how far off Illi's position was. It was good that they were able to express that they - just like most other Muslims in German society - didn't want anything to do with her.

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