What Ozil’s resignation reveals about a German political dilemma
Minorities can easily come to the conclusion that the main reason ethnic Germans want them to be part of German society is to demonstrate how tolerant and morally good Germany has become
The dismal German Fifa World Cup campaign ended not only with an unexpected first-round exit of the previous World Champions, but also in a major socio-political public relations disaster challenging the country’s hard-won reputation as an emerging world leader in morality. Key player Mesut Ozil angrily declared that he would never wear the German jersey again and accused the German Football Association, as well as the German public, media, and some of his sponsors, of implicit or explicit racism.
Ozil was not only a major star of the national squad that had won the 2014 World Cup, but, being of Turkish origin, he was also a poster boy of a new Germany that liked to be seen as having left its racist Nazi past behind for good by successfully integrating its Turkish minority and opening its (and European Union) borders for millions of refugees and migrants.
Ozil had won several cultural integration awards and was seen as a face representing “Die Mannschaft”, which in turn was supposed to represent the new multicultural Germany.
A few weeks before this year’s World Cup, however, Ozil accepted an invitation for a photo opportunity by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan who had been campaigning for the Turkish elections. This caused a major stir because Erdogan is widely regarded by German public opinion, media, and political parties as a despicable autocrat.
Ozil not only steadfastly refused to apologise for meeting Erdogan, but eventually defended himself by citing his loyalty to his Turkish origins. He stated that he could not have refused an invitation by the president of his ancestral country, because this would have been an insult to his family and his cultural background. Ozil declared his frustration about the hostility he met within Germany after publicly embracing his personal heritage and, given the abuse he suffered, felt that there was no other choice but to resign from the national squad of his adopted country.
The whole affair reveals a deep moral and political clash dividing contemporary Germany, just as many other countries with larger, and growing, immigrant communities.
While most ethnic Germans emphatically embrace a set of liberal Western values – partly to distance themselves from their nation’s fascist past – a significant part of the immigrant population holds on to values attached to a commitment to specific ethnic, national, religious, or family affiliations.
The ensuing irony is that the liberal Germans (similar to other liberals in the “West”) find themselves in the uneasy situation that their non-racist, anti-nationalist principles oblige them to unconditionally welcome all “foreigners”, but the same principles also oblige them to condemn, or at least disregard, core values that many of these “foreigners” identify with.
This, in turn, leaves many Germans of Turkish or other non-indigenous origins with the feeling that they are only accepted in Germany (or their respective Western host country) if they dissociate themselves from what they regard as their identity and actively convert to a liberal creed.
They can easily come to the conclusion that the main reason the ethnic Germans want them to be or become part of German society is to demonstrate to these Germans, and also to the rest of the world, how tolerant and morally good Germany has become.
The immigrants serve as the colourful “extras” for Germany’s rebranding of itself as a multicultural, liberal utopia. In the end, their main function is to show, contrary to reality, that this utopia has become true. They are supposed to affirm the image a progressive and liberal country likes to have of itself and of the people it welcomes – and this certainly does not include posting photos with Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Hans-Georg Moeller is a professor of philosophy and programme coordinator in philosophy and religious studies at the University of Macau