Timo Al-Farooq

Journalist & Political Analyst, London⎜Berlin

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In Germany, Being a Global Superstar Does Not Protect You From Racist and Islamophobic Bullying

German footballer Mesut Özil (Photo Credit: Fars News Agency, taken from Wikimedia Commons)

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. It was more importantly a personal and heart-warming three-part manifesto that indicted Germany for its systemic racism by providing valuable first-hand insights into what it is like for people of Turkish origin - Germany's largest ethnic minority and key reason for West Germany's post-war economic miracle a.k.a. the Wirtschaftswunder - to grow up in a country that incessantly questions your Germanness, always makes you choose between your two cultural identities and readily 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.

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