How a Soccer Star Sparked a Ferocious Debate in Germany
The soccer star Mesut Ãzil, a midfielder who now plays for Arsenal and helped Germany win the 2014 World Cup, was born in 1988 in Gelsenkirchen, an industrial city in West Germany, a grandchild of Turkish immigrants, and rose to national prominence in a country where few products of immigration do. When he announced in a letter posted on Twitter on Sunday that he was quitting Germanyâs national team, citing âracism and disrespect,â he used words that will resonate in Germany for a long time. âWhen we win, I am German,â he wrote. âWhen we lose, I am an immigrant.â
Within hours, the tweet to his 23 million followers opened a ferocious debate in Germanyâ"about racism, about ant i-Muslim sentiment, about whether the German model of integration, however one defined it, was âa mythâ or had failed; about dual nationality, even about dual loyalty (a term not used lightly in Germany)â"as well as about soccer sportsmanship and the management of this yearâs German national team, which placed out of this yearâs World Cup in early stages, a fate some right-wing German soccer fans took to the internet to blame on Ãzil. In his letter, he said he was tired of being a scapegoat.
âI have two hearts, one German and one Turkish,â Ãzil wrote in his statement. That he, a member of the second generation of his family to be born in Germany, even had to qualify this tells you a lot about the current state of affairs in Germany and other European countries. For their own historical reasons, Germany, France, Italy, and other continental countries do not tend to embrace the American âmelting potâ model or even the British post-colonial multicultural model. Instead, they have more rigid definitions of national identity, which often make it difficult for products of immigration to embrace multiple cultures at onceâ"as we saw last week in the tiff between Trevor Noah and the French ambassador to the United States, who took grave offense at Noahâs joking of Franceâs multiethnic team that âAfrica won the World Cup.â
But the Ãzil case is different and in many ways more fraught, and goes beyond the problematic âgood immigrantâ versus âbad immigrantâ categories he cited in his letter. His resignation did not come out of the blue. Nor did the accusations of dual loyalty. They capped months of controversy that began in May when Ãzil and another German soccer player of Turkish origins, Ä°lkay GÃ¼ndoÄan, posed for a photo with Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄan, in the run-up to the Turkish national elections in June in which 1.4 million Turks residing in Germany were eligible to vote. German soccer aut horities asked Ãzil to apologize, saying heâd overstepped the boundaries of sportsmanship. The German branch of PEN, the literary and free-speech organization, asked him to speak out against the human-rights violations and the imprisonment of thousands of academics, journalists, and writers in Turkey on ErdoÄanâs watch. Ãzil refused. The German soccer association then began sanctioning him.
Ãzil wrote in his letter of resignation, âFor me, having a picture with President ErdoÄan wasnât about politics or elections. It was about me respecting the highest office of my familyâs country.â But that seems willfully naive at best. âImagine if the most important baseball player in the worst period of Castro took a picture with Castro. What would they say?â the German novelist Gila Lustiger, a member of German PEN, told me. âAt least say that Castro is a dictator,â she added. âHe could have said, âI took a picture with ErdoÄan but Iâm for freedom of speec h and I donât think homosexuals should go to prison.â But he didnât want to do that.â The German boxer Ãnsal Arik, also of Turkish heritage, told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung he thought Ãzil had erred in snapping the photo with ErdoÄan. âÃzil still doesnât understand what he has done,â Arik told the paper. âHe helped a man with blood on his hands in an election campaign. In any other country that would have generated as much clamor as it did in Germany. And rightly so.â
Germanyâs relationship with Turkey has become even more fraught of late. The arrival in Germany of 1 million asylum seekers in 2015, most of them Syrians transiting through Turkey, has contributed to a rise in far-right sentiment in Germany. It has also led to Merkel striking a deal in March of 2016 in which Germany gave Turkey funding in exchange for Turkey capping the number of asylum seekers leaving its borders. And Merkelâs coalition government almost cracked this month when the interior minister, Horst Seehofer, the head of a Bavarian right-wing party, threatened to resign over differences about how to handle migration. He insisted on creating âtransit campsâ to hold would-be arrivals at the German-Austrian border and deport them if it was found they had already applied for asylum elsewhere in Europe.
After Ãzil announced his resignation, a spokeswoman for Merkel took the âgood immigrantâ line and said that the chancellor admired Ãzil and everything he did as a role model for integration, that she respected his decision to quit the national team and believed others should respect it, too. The president of FC Bayern MÃ¼nchen took the âbad immigrantâ line: he accused Ãzil of resigning because he hadnât been playing well.
On Tuesday, the front page of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung had an above-the-fold cartoon showing Seehofer beneath a title that reads âGermany Thanks You,â with a thought bu bble coming out of his head that reads: âOf course I will provide our formerly deserving national team player Ãzil the soccer field in the courtyard of one of our new transit centers for his farewell match.â Later the same day, ErdoÄan expressed his support for Ãzil, and criticized the âracistâ behavior of some Germans. The ironies here run very deep, and wonât be sorted out any time soon.
We want to hear what you think. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.Rachel Donadio is a Paris-based staff writer at The Atlantic, covering politics and culture across Europe.Source: Google News Germany | Netizen 24 Germany