‘German when I win, an immigrant when I lose’, Özil sparks identity and racism debate

24th Aug 2018
‘German when I win, an immigrant when I lose’, Özil sparks identity and racism debate

German football player Mesut Özil was subject to a torrent of xenophobic abuse and questions of his national identity following the release of this photo with Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in May (Photo: Kayhan Ozer/Anadolu Agency)

Elham Asaad Buaras

Thousands of ethnic minority Germans took to Twitter to share their experiences of racism and xenophobia using the hashtag #MeTwo, after Mesut Özil resigned from the national football team citing “racism and disrespect” targeting his Turkish roots and Muslim faith.

Özil has faced criticism within the German media and from politicians after he posed for a photograph with Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

In a powerful resignation letter released on July 22 the 29-year-old World Cup winner claimed German FA (DFB) chiefs “wanted him out of the team” before the latest tournament, which Germany crashed out of in the group stages.

Özil questioned why other dual-heritage team-mates have not been subjected to the same treatment.

“Are there criteria for being fully German that I do not fit? My friend Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose are never referred to as German-Polish, so why am I German-Turkish? Is it because it is Turkey? Is it because I’m a Muslim? I think here lays an important issue,” he said.

Özil wrote: “The treatment I have received from the DFB and many others make me no longer want to wear the German national team shirt. I feel unwanted and think that what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten.

“People with racially discriminative backgrounds should not be allowed to work in the largest football federation in the world that has many players from dual-heritage families. Attitudes like theirs simply do not reflect the players they supposedly represent.

“It is with a heavy heart and after much consideration that because of recent events, I will no longer be playing for Germany at international level while I have this feeling of racism and disrespect.

“I used to wear the German shirt with such pride and excitement, but now I don’t. This decision has been extremely difficult to make because I have always given everything for my team-mates, the coaching staff and the good people of Germany.

“But when high-ranking DFB officials treat me as they did, disrespect my Turkish roots and selfishly turn me into political propaganda, then enough is enough. That is not why I play football, and I will not sit back and do nothing about it. Racism should never, ever be accepted.”

The Arsenal star Özil, who has won 92 caps for Germany and helped them win the 2014 World Cup, also revealed he and his family had received hate mail, threatening phone calls and had been subject to social media abuse.

Özil has insisted there were no political undertones behind the Erdoğan photographs, which also featured his international team-mate İlkay Gündoğan and said those against him had treated him as a “German when we win, an immigrant when we lose”.

Özil’s claims of racism was met with scepticism from some sections of public and media including Thomas Bareiss, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, who said  it showed “disrespect” and was “misplaced”, while German daily Bild said Ozil was “revelling in the victim role that has nothing to do with reality”.

Such reactions prompted thousands of minority Germans to share their experiences.

#MeTwo became Twitter’s top trending label in Berlin on July 26 as thousands of second-generation immigrants shared experiences of discrimination they suffered in daily life because of their ethnicity.

“Why ‘two’? Because I am more than one identity,” said Ali Can, a Turkish-German writer and activist, in a Facebook video that launched the campaign.

“I didn’t think it would be that many,” said Can, 24, after the #MeTwo posts exploded on German Twitter, adding that it had needed a big event like Özil’s departure to spark a long-overdue debate on integration in Germany. “It’s an opportunity to talk about integration, and what it actually means to be German,” he added.

While America is a “melting pot”, he said: “Here, it’s like a salad bowl: everyone is somehow mixed but next to each other. We hope that we will be a bit more like America.”

More than 22 per cent of Germany’s population have a foreign background but many migrants share Özil’s sentiment of being treated as “German when we win, immigrant when we lose,” and that feeling has become stronger since the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, Can said.

The AfD has risen in popularity due to concerns about the influx of 1.6 million migrants since mid-2014. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the #MeTwo tweets showed racism was a problem.

“It is impressive and painful how many people are speaking out here,” Maas tweeted. “We have to realise that it is the flippant talk at work or the despicable gesture in the train that can sometimes be more painful than the blatant slogans of half-naked people with bald heads.”

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