In Germany, Being a Global Superstar Does Not Protect You From Racist and Islamophobic Bullying
One year ago today, on July 22, 2018, Arsenal London midfielder and German international Mesut Özil declared via Twitter his resignation from the German national men’s football (soccer) team after weeks of racist, turkophobic and islamophobic bullying by German media, politicians and public opinion against his person and fellow English Premier League and national team colleague, Ilkay Gündoğan, who plays for the reigning English champion Manchester City.
This was not a mere perfunctory resignation letter, but a personal and heart-warming three-part social media manifesto, indicting Germany for it’s systemic racism by providing valuable first-hand insights of what it is like for people of Turkish origin — Germany’s largest ethnic minority and key reason for West Germany’s economic miracle after the Second World War known as the Wirtschaftswunder — to grow up in a country that incessantly questions your Germanness, always makes you choose between your two cultural identities and discriminates you for the “wrong” one.
That Özils experience was not a singular one was instantly proved by the flood of social media posts by Germans with all kinds of immigrant backgrounds describing identical experiences of racism and discrimination and which collectively became known as the #metwo movement (“two” as in two cultural identities), validating Özils claims far beyond a reasonable doubt through the sheer volume and damning quality of anecdotal evidence of life in a white-majority society and nation-state with a factory-setting of structural racism and islamophobia built into its psyche.
Islamophobia is a key word here, because Özil’s and Gündoğan’s crime in the eyes of a white German public and media was not only being of Turkish origin, but also being Muslim. Both factors came into play if we remind ourselves that the initial spark that fanned the flames of white German outrage, the convenient casus belli at that time which provided white Germans from the political left, right and center with the excuse for ganging up on two stand-up und fundamentally decent guys of Turkish descent proudly representing Germany — the country they call home — was that now infamous selfie Özil and Gündoğan took with Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdoğan in the weeks leading up to the FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Little did these two decent and stand-up guys expect that this harmless and innocent act would overnight turn them into public enemies No 1 in the country of their birth and upbringing, Germany. That this non-issue would collectively be perceived by white Germany as an act of aggression and treason, degrading these two celebrated global superstars to it’s-duck-hunting season-fair-game and pariahs in their own home country of Deutschland Deutschland über alles, as the outlawed first stanza of the German national anthem goes which nobody is allowed to sing, but far too many white Germans couldn’t agree with more, however subconsciously, Özil and Gündoğan couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams.
What was then dubbed “Erdoğangate” by mainstream German media, should more aptly have been monikered “White Germangate”, as the scandal did not lie with what two Turkish-German players did on the eve of the World Cup in Russia (take a selfie with a President who m— like Putin — it is fashionable to criticize in Germany for authoritarian leanings while staying remarkably silent on full-blown fascists like Donald Trump, Hungary’s Victor Orbán, and India’s Narendra Modi, the latter having so much blood on his hands you could fill up blood banks).
No, the real scandal that no one talked about at the time was the ready-to-pounce lynch mob-mentality of white islamophobe (liberal) Germany that was finally given its long-overdo excuse to be able to unleash a pent-up racism and anti-religious bigotry that had been simmering under the pseudopluralist surface of this country all these comfortably postdemocratic Merkelian years of incessant self-gratification.
Hell-bent on reminding these two born-and-bred Germans that they — like all us non-white/non-ethnic Germans who refuse to toe the white man’s line and who dare to go against the entrenched interests of white supremacy — will never truly be part and parcel of the country of their birth, white-majority Germany collectively descended on these two with the vengeful fire and fury of cowards who know they are strong in numbers, but weak in intellect, and therefore compensate for their self-induced inferiority with violent group dynamics.
In its ruthless racism, white-majority Germany went even further and ensured that every attempt at criticizing white, racist hegemony — as Mesut Özil with his damning Twitter manifesto and the #metwo movement did, would be gaslighted into oblivion, mercilessly ridiculed and crushed to pieces by an incorrigible and forever bigoted white-majority society that shockingly believes itself to be liberal and good people.
Which is exactly the lesson to be taken from here: Germany — a country so inaccurately perceived in the international community of nation-states to be a liberal, progressive sanctuary in the middle of a right-wing populist Europe because it confuses Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fundamental human decency for being representative of the country that she leads, is so breathtakingly provincial and white-supremacist (not in the US sense of a violent and weaponized ideology, but rather meaning the supremacy of whiteness as a mainstream consensus due to the hegemony of white people within the German political and economic power structure, however actively or passively this ideal is arrived at) that a world-renowned superstar and global brand like Mesut Özil, Made in Germany by default of his birth and upbringing, can so easily be subjected to the the most disgusting racist and islamophobe bullying. Not even by proud white nationalists and right-wingers, but by mainstream German media and mainstream German society that both believe themselves to be forward-thinking and culturally diverse, but are unmistakably lily-white spaces of unchecked white and Eurocentric hegemony.
Just a reminder: these are the same people that always considered former Polish-born German international Lukas Podolski to be German, but only until he botched a goal, which was the accepted breaking point for turning him into a “fucking Polack” by angry white German “fans” (I have witnessed this white German opportunism at numerous public viewings of European and World Cups).
French and Belgian internationals Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku have complained about this kind of racist meritocracy where they are only considered French or Belgian as long as they perform well; if they don’t, then it’s back to being African (which by the way — when coming from white flag-waving football fans with that mainstreamed white nationalism they like to euphemize as patriotism — is never meant as a term of endearment).
With regards to Özil, this unapologetically Turkish and Muslim German: his Twitter manifesto has turned him into our own German Colin Kaepernick: not because both have refused to sing their respective national anthems, but due to the commendable fact that both — in their capacity as athletes — had the audacity to not want to be merely seen as passive service-providers for the entertainment of third parties (meaning the fans), but to be valued as self-determined individuals with their own agency. To be treated as human beings with a keen sense of justice, coupled with the guts to speak out against systemic injustices (how did the U.S.-historian Howard Zinn put it so aptly: “You can’t be neutral on a moving train”).
In that sense, Özil — like Kaepernick — is a whistleblower in the finest tradition: and that is a much more important legacy that the former has bestowed upon Germany than his stellar contributions during his nine years of service for the German football federation as a central part of “Die Mannschaft” (the team), as Germany’s men’s football squad is popularly known in a ludicrous attempt at understated modesty.
Thank you for both, Mesut ağabey, on this one-year anniversary of your laudable resignation from a team and federation that did not have your back once (unlike the Swedish team which — when their Turkish-origin player Jimmy Durmaz was being racistly bullied by Swedish “fans” during the World Cup in Russia— in a show of unison, solidarity and support went so far as to shoot a video condemning the attacks on one of theirs).
And thank you for having made life in racist and islamophobe Germany a little bit more tolerable for us Muslims and “visible minority” Germans.