The Mesut Ozil case is an opportunity for Muslims in Europe

The Mesut Ozil case is an opportunity for Muslims in Europe

Mesut Ozil’s statement and his resignation from the German national football team has triggered one of the biggest debates on racism and integration in Germany.

The Mesut Ozil case is a watershed in Germany, a fatal signal to millions of young people with a migrant background. 

This case reinforces their feelings of not being welcome in Germany. If even a national football player and world champion is exposed to racism and does not receive support from politicians, society and the German Football Association, many ask themselves: what should we do to be accepted as full members of this society?

For young Muslims in Germany, the feelings of exclusion are especially acute. They feel disadvantaged not only because of their origin, but also because of their religion. In his letter of resignation Mesut Ozil asks whether there are criteria for being German, which he does not fulfil. 

“My friends Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose are never called German-Polish, so why am I German-Turkish? Is it because it is Turkey? Is it because I’m a Muslim?”

What Ozil says in his resignation statement is not new. Ozil merely describes what many people with a migrant background have always thought and how they have always felt. It is not new, but it has now been put into words by someone who has a broad audience beyond German borders. The whole world is suddenly discussing the inner life of Muslims in general and German Muslims with Turkish migration background in Germany:

“I am German, if we win, if we lose, I am an immigrant”

In Germany and Europe, we have been experiencing increasing xenophobia for many years, which is particularly evident when it comes to Muslim communities. Muslims are in the public spotlight like no other community in Europe. In public disputes, they are often portrayed as a supposedly backward, unenlightened, uneducated, and violent group to be feared.

Numerous studies have already investigated and revealed the negative consequences of these public debates. As it stands, many people are afraid of Muslims, avoiding any contact if they can. And these are not only people from the political far right, but rather even ordinary people from the modest centre. 

In daily life, people experience the effects in almost all walks of life. They are disadvantaged in their search for work and housing, and are not allowed to wear headscarves in public due to legal regulations in some federal states. 

It is not uncommon that Islamophobia manifests itself through violent and criminal acts targeting Muslims, especially those speaking for a peaceful coexistence. The rejection of people of Muslims has reached a point where there are no longer even given any expressions of solidarity when arson attacks are carried out on mosques or when women are attacked on the street for wearing a headscarf. 

The extent of the rejection of Muslims can now be seen even in the reception of refugees, the majority of whom also come from Muslim-majority countries. According to a representative survey, German society would be more receptive if refugees in general are from a different belief. 

It looks as if there will be no resignation on the part of the German Football Association. In a statement, DFB President Reinhard Grindel admitted mistakes in dealing with the case, but he does not speak of personal or professional consequences. 

This also reinforces the fatal impression among ethnic and religious minorities that everything is not so bad, because in the end ‘it’s all about a Turk’.

Despite the adversity, we must not bury our heads in the sand. Ozil’s case has only brought something to light, made something visible. We can see this as an opportunity and finally have an open and honest debate on racism in Germany and Europe. 

We can transform indignation at the way Ozil is treated into energy and discuss together how it was possible to elect an extreme right-wing party like the AfD in Germany to the Bundestag and why right-wing extremists sit in almost all parliaments throughout Europe.

We can also use this opportunity to question ourselves. For example, we can ask ourselves whether and what mistakes we Muslims have made that Islamophobia could increase so much. Self-reflection and self-criticism are virtues and signs of strength, not weakness. We can use this opportunity to get into conversation with our neighbours, friends and all the other people around us.

For us Muslims in Germany and Europe, there is no alternative to this dispute. We must have discussions, demand debates and, over and over again, oppose all forms of racism. 

For us, the fight against xenophobia and anti-Muslim racism is without alternatives simply because we live in Europe, are rooted, and see our future here. The romantic idea of Muslims of Turkish origin fifty or sixty years ago who went to make and save some money to only go back to Turkey, no longer exists.

It must therefore be our goal to struggle for a diverse and pluralistic society until everyone, regardless of their origin, language, colour or religion, can live on an equal footing and free of discrimination – regardless of whether they see themselves as Muslims, Christians, Jews, Turks, Germans or German-Turks.

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