German society has been left with many questions after Mesut Ozil's resignation. Chief among them, can they deal with racism and discrimination?
Sunday 22 July belonged to Mesut Ozil. When he published his three part statement over the course of Sunday, finally delivering his bombshell around 8 pm local German time, millions of fans around the world combed over his every word. With a bang, the international footballing star had initiated a debate that a younger generation of immigrant background had not had in Germany.
His silence after a photo with the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which was taken at a charity event in London, earned him a lot of criticism within Germany.
The president of the German Football Association (DFB), Reinhard Grindel, called on Ozil several times to explain himself and his decision.
After Ilkay Gundogan gave a comparatively brief statement to the press shortly after the publication of the photos in which he described the meeting and the handover of the jersey as an apolitical act and emphasised his solidarity with Germany, the focus was primarily on Ozil.
Gundogan continued to be booed by German fans during the World Cup even after professing his loyalty to Germany. Headlines about Ozil, however, continued to dominate the German press. The back pages and the front pages intensely scrutinised Ozil's performance and his meeting with the Turkish President.
"Ozil is not comfortable in the DFB jersey," proclaimed Lothar Matthaus the DFB's official honorary captain, on the front page of a German daily. A short time later, Matthaus, visited Russian President Vladimir Putin and thanked him for the World Cup.
There was no media outcry. It is this double standard, amongst many others, that Mesut Ozil alluded to in his three-part statement, making him a hero to millions of people.
From the very beginning, the boundaries between criticism and racist resentment were blurred. Often discussions revolved around the alleged performance of the midfielder or his decision to take a photo with Erdogan, an underlying overlapping theme was also apparent: Ozil is and remains a foreigner. Lukas Rilke, a journalist at Der Spiegel, summed it up "the core of the undignified spectacle" is racism.
This was obviously Ozil's conclusion and of millions of others who showed solidarity with him.
Mesut Ozil's words acted as a courageous statement voicing a phenomenon with which minorities in Germany previously felt unable to express or alone.
Without justifying or explaining himself, he explained his assessment of the events. His statement was not just a reaction, he did not submit to the demands, no, he did not even use the same discourse - he initiated a new, much larger one.
Ozil's text trilogy is an all-around attack against hypocrisy, discrimination and self-importance. What the native from North Rhine-Westphalia published has an unprecedented symbolic character for many people in Germany who have had similar experiences.
Not belonging, the doubts, the pressure to prove oneself - in particular but not exclusively for young Turks, one realises, that Ozil wrote to them from the soul.
Ozil's words were not tempered and couched in technocratic terms, they expressed a deep-seated emotional pain and a willingness to no longer be powerless in the face of a media and political machine bent on making him yield.
Ozil not only describes the experiences of his own case, he offers a template in which others can record their own experiences. And he used his massive platform to do so.
He chose to use his platform rather than another and in using the English language he ensured that his message would be understood internationally and nationally. His words would not be lost in translation or subverted.
When Grindel, President of the DFB, called for Ozil's explanations, he probably imagined something else. But Ozil did not yield to the pressure.
"It was no longer a question of criticising Erdogan, but of defaming Turkish-born people who connect their roots with their German identity," says Omer Igac, a young German-Turkish entrepreneur from Berlin. It is the opinion that can be heard by consensus amongst minorities in Germany. This was summarised in Ozil's most concise and stinging rebuke: I'm German if we win, I'm immigrant if we lose.
The vice-chairman of the Central Council of Muslims, Mehmet Alparslan Celebi, describes it as the pressure of having to do 150% to avoid the tendentious suspicion of being poorly integrated.
And the reaction to Ozil's statement confirmed in all their different ways the perception of double standards. Julia Klockner, the Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, went so far as to deny racism and accuse Ozil instead of racism, because he would present "criticism of a dictator as German racism". Ozil's statement lacks "self-criticism", but one does not demonstrate one's own self-criticism.
Although Mesut Ozil clearly stated that he had not rejected the photo out of respect for the highest state office of his family's home country, he had not made any political positioning and he would have also taken the photo with a Turkish president who belonged to any other party. Not only were these words immediately reinterpreted in the first German media reports as "Ozil would take Erdogan photo again", many continue to consistently disbelieve him. Because, polemically he must simply remain as a caricature.
The German State Secretary for Federal Affairs of Palestinian descent Sawsan Chebli asked whether it is was ever possible under these circumstances to belong to Germany?
Insisting that Ozil's photo with Turkish President Erdogan was a mistake is involuntarily a confirmation of Ozil's words and those who agree with him.
Jules El-Khatib, a Palestinian leftist, points out that in a truly open country it doesn't matter "whether you've just done something good or not when it comes to the question of whether you belong or not."
If the media continue to speak of "accusations of racism" instead of racism per se, this reminds us of the admonishing words of Mehmet Daimaguler, who, as a joint plaintiff in the NSU Neo-Nazi terrorist trial, repeatedly pointed out that institutional and structural racism within the German state had prevented the case from being heard fairly and justice delivered.
If mistakes had been made then Reinhard Grindel, a CDU member of parliament who called multiculturalism a myth in 2004 and who has never withdrawn those statements should not have been president of a sports association that is committed to being anti-racist.
Instead, it was left to Ozil to terminate his association with the DFB. It seems that those who try to deny any racism are ignoring the arguments he set out in his statement.
Journalist Patrick Bahners drew attention on Twitter to the fact that everything began on the 15 May with the headline "Shabby propaganda for Erdogan!" Three days later, former DFB President Theo Zwanziger recalled: Mesut told us that he had been warned by the Turkish side. "Once he played for Germany, he would always remain a second-class German." Unfortunately, that has come true.
Mesut Ozil asks in his explanation whether there are criteria for being German which he does not fulfil. If millions nationally and internationally can relate to this rhetorical question, then the question of whether there is a racism problem comes too late and the question must be asked how this problem can be overcome. A healthy society has to deal with these questions head on.
“If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare that I am a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German and Germany will declare that I am a Jew,” declared Albert Einstein.
But not even Mesut Ozil, who prepared by far the most goals since his first appearance on the German national team in 2009, enjoyed this supposed luxury through performance. Throughout, he was questioned why he did not sing the national anthem - although he had already declared that he prayed for himself and his team since childhood - and his affiliation is not recognised.
Mesut Ozil will no longer wear the DFB jersey, and this, as Martin Schneider describes in the Suddeutsche Zeitung, is "a resignation with millions of losers", but at the same time he put on the minority jersey. And that's hopeful.
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