Swedish national broadcaster SVT has sparked massive outrage with its app for Melodifestivalen, a popular music festival that attracts millions of viewers.
In the app, which is geared toward kids starting from the age of three, users can create their own avatars featuring different hairstyles, and one of the options is the Muslim hijab.
This feature sparked criticism from social commentators, activists, and ordinary users alike, who saw it as inappropriate and sending a wrong message.
Among others, Faw Azzat of the Moderate Party and former goodwill ambassador for GAPF, a national organisation against honour-related violence, demanded an explanation from SVT.
“Melody Festival app. Age limit three. What were you thinking?” Azzat wrote.
Others inquired why other religious head garments, such as the Jewish yarmulke, were not included.
Still others interpreted it as a symbol of oppression and the sexualisation of children being normalised using public funds.
“Women in Muslim countries risk their lives fighting male oppression and the obligatory veil. Here, SVT goes out with taxpayers' money making my children believe that it's normal for little girls to cover up. May my children and grandchildren know that I belonged to the resistance movement”, one woman tweeted.
Kvinnor i muslimska länder riskerar sina liv för att bli av med manligt förtryck som slöjtvång. Då rycker @SVTmelfest ut med mina skattepengar o vill få barn att tro att det är normalt att småflickor täcker sig. Må mina barn och barnbarn veta att jag tillhörde motståndsrörelsen. https://t.co/Ra6eEgq2uP— Liselott M Agerlid (@Agerlid) February 2, 2020
“Islamists have, of course, infiltrated SVT. Our tax money at work! Damn it”, children's writer and journalist Katerina Janouch wrote.
The broadcaster has been tax-funded since the beginning of 2019 via a tax that raises a total of approximately SEK 9 billion ($930 million) for SVT, Swedish Radio, and Education Radio. The tax is referred to as a fee.
While claiming to be independent, SVT is owned by the Public Administration Foundation, which is government-controlled. Its board members, including current and former MPs, are also appointed by the government.
The issue of Islamic clothing has become an increasingly polarising topic in Sweden owing to mass immigration from the Middle East, as well as from North and Sub-Saharan Africa. While several institutions and municipalities have imposed bans on religious garments, this sparked protests from Islamic pressure groups, interest organisations, and their allies.
The number of Muslims in Sweden has soared in recent decades, exceeding 800,000 and amounting to 8.1 percent of the population today, according to the Pew Research Centre. This has sparked a hot debate on the role of Islam in Swedish society.