Does the Germany of today deserve its team, or its players?
After a shocking 2-0 loss to South Korea, the German national football team was knocked out in the first round of the World Cup, for only the second time in history.
A message that shook the German media landscape. The negative headlines with lurid titles like "Disgrace" or "Downfall" went online the same evening. As an accompaniment to the defeat, masses of photos of a certain football player were used: Mesut Ozil.
That was not a random choice. There has been an obsessive preoccupation with German national players Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan in the last weeks.
The reason behind the media frenzy was a photo of the two footballers I mentioned, with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at an event in London in early May.
Erdogan is a target for the German media where there's a consensus that he's an authoritarian figure. Every alleged grievance in Turkey is personally associated with Erdogan, and "the opposition"—unlike him and the government—is regarded as a prime example of democracy.
Therefore, it was not surprising that Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan became an object of a scandal after the photo. Deutschlandfunk radio attested that they have "no brains" and the daily newspaper Tagesschau daily speaks of a "scandal".
It wasn't just the media, politicians also went on the attack; far-right AfD leader, Alice Weidel, demanded that the two players be removed from the squad; Green member of the Bundestag Cem Ozdemir said that the players should look up "rule of law and democracy"; and the parliamentary director of the CSU in the Bundestag, Stefan Muller, accused the two players of being "exploited".
The alleged scandal begins with ignorance. Gross negligence in reporting continues to this day and unverified "facts" have nestled themselves in the judgement making process.
A popular argument is that Ozil and Gundogan interfered purposefully in the AK Party election campaign. Germany's mainstream daily Die Welt called the meeting an "election campaign aid." The meeting is presented like an explicit election campaign event.
It was an event of the Turkish foundation "Turken" in London. Among other activities and services, the foundation awards scholarships. The date of the recurring evening event is always in Ramadan. The date had already been set when it had not yet been decided that there would be a new election. The meeting with Erdogan took place on the sidelines, all three were invited as guests.
When it comes to Turkey, other standards generally apply in the German media. It is nothing new to work with bad, tendentious translations. This also has a special role to play in this case.
Gundogan's signed jersey, gifted to Erdogan, was turned into a scandal: "My president" had been written on it.
Translated directly, that was the case, yes. However, anyone who speaks Turkish knows that this is the way to express a respectful address in Turkish.
These representations are probably in direct connection with the subsequent reception by German fans during the World Cup. Whenever Ozil's or Gundogan's names were called, the German fans booed their own players.
"Ozil is not comfortable in the DFB jersey," the mainstream German daily, the Bild higlighted, quoting former football German captain Lothar Matthaeus.
The boundaries between legitimate criticism of a player's performance and poorly veiled racism were blurred. If you read between the lines, the common message was: "the foreigner is not one of us."
Of course, the discussion about Ozil and Gundogan did not pass the team. "I see it in such a way that the whole debate around Mesut and Ilkay was a feast." Players stressed several times that the debate should be checked off. Coach Joachim Loew has repeatedly expressed solidarity with the two midfielders.
It didn't change anything. And Ozil became the one to blame after the German team failed spectacularly. Photos of him dominated the lead stories of the German defeat and his performance was judged harshly, despite Ozil creating seven chances in the match against South Korea.
This is the highest overall figure in the group stage of the World Cup. It is what a player should do in his position. That is why he has created the most assists in the history of the German national team and this quality is recognised globally. At home, however, observers are apparently ignorant of his superior style of play, which is backed by statistics.
Indeed, it can be assumed that the excessive aversion to the two professionals born in Germany is simpy a matter of racism.
The discussions surrounding them are not entirely new. Already at the 2010 and 2014 World Cup and the 2012 European Championship, the demands for players with a migrant background to sing the national anthem flared up again and again. While a famous video from the 1974 World Cup final shows that not a single German player was singing the anthem at the time, today it is suddenly considered a political issue.
Mesut Ozil explained that he would pray for himself and his team before the start of the match, also during the national anthem. "Even as a young boy I used to pray on the football pitch," he told the WM Magazin, "and I still do."
But being different seems to be overtaxing. The type of discourse about Ozil shows above all that in Germany there is a lack of willingness to recognise diversity as something truly German.
Ozil and Gundogan have already stressed several times that Germany is their home. As if playing for the German national team was not the strongest way to make that case. Yet their participation is questioned.
So, between the lines it is said that foreigners remain foreigners and belong to someone else, in this case namely Turkey. The accusation that their visit provides a corresponding picture is an escalation of the logic of association.
If it were the president of another country, there would be no discussion.
Because German athletes have already been received several times by various state leaders or they have given them signed jerseys or accepted some.
For instance, Lothar Matthaeus, considered a legend, visited Russia's President Putin a couple of days ago. There was never a discussion about it. Ozil and Gundogan, sons of Turkish immigrants may not be seen explicitly with the Turkish president?
This is a selective yardstick that reveals above all that the German character of these German international players is apparently seamlessly questioned and can be questioned. In short, it's called resentment.
A racist resentment.
Even if some voices with a nationalist image of Germany do not want to admit this, according to the state's statistical aggregator: one-quarter of all people in Germany are foreign or have a migration background.
This is not only the new German identity, it is also an old understanding of being German.
Literary scholar Dieter Borchmeyer sums it up in one of his interviews as follows: “Being German actually means being supranational, means being European, means being cosmopolitan thinking. This is how it has been in all classical definitions of being German.”
This also corresponds to the perception of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Nietzsche.
And after German President Frank Walter Steinmeier met Ozil and Gundogan, he said in an almost historical statement that home also exists in the plural.
The diversity and plurality of the German national team reflect this German identity. It just doesn't seem like the country today really deserves this team or its players.
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