The popular Sunday night show hosted by Anne Will featured a man who had lost his daughter to the terror group Isis, 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 radicalized.”
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 radicalized youths heading to Syria – which was detailed on Facebook and shown during the show – that sparked an outcry.
Illi had argued in an essay published on her group's website in 2014 that parents should keep “a cool head” if their children go to Syria to fight. She wrote that youths who want to fight “in the model of the Prophet” against “the henchmen of Assad” should be praised for showing “civil courage”.
But, she said, teenagers will soon realize the “brutal reality of war” has nothing to do “with their romanticized dream, but rather it is a bitter, hard, long-term test with constant ups and downs.”
Illi 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 in objection to the term “promised land”, saying: “That's propaganda, that's unacceptable on public television”.
Illi wrote on Facebook on Monday that her original essay was not intended “in any way to promote such journeys” to Syria. She explained that her group in Switzerland has “extensively and unequivocally spoken out against these kinds of trips… and fought against Isis ideology”.
The backlash from the public was 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.”
CDU lawmaker Sebastian Steineke said on Twitter that he found it “reckless that someone can offer radical Islam such a platform on television.”
Bilkay Oney from the Social Democrats, who was the former integration minister of Baden-Württemberg 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”.