Posted on July 24, 2018

Soccer Star’s Resignation Deepens Germany’s Immigration Debate

Bojan Pancevski, Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2018

A fierce debate about identity and integration is escalating in Germany following the resignation of an ethnic Turkish soccer star from the national team over what he deemed “racism and disrespect.”

Mesut Ozil, born in Germany to Turkish immigrant parents, was one of the most prominent players in a celebrated national squad that won the 2014 World Cup. His decision to quit, laid out on Twitter on Sunday evening, is dominating national news, reflecting the tension gripping the country since the 2015 migration crisis brought one million asylum seekers to Germany and fueled a surge in far-right politics.

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The 29-year-old soccer star, who also plays for England’s Arsenal team, accused soccer authorities and some media and politicians of racism after facing months of criticism for meeting Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a controversial figure in Germany because of his crackdown on political opponents.

Mr. Ozil and fellow player Ilkay Gundogan met Mr. Erdogan in May at a hotel in London for a photo session in which they gave their jerseys to the Turkish leader. Mr. Gundogan, also a German citizen, wrote on his jersey “for my president, with great respect.” The meeting took place during the campaign for June general elections in Turkey.

It ignited a heated discussion about the loyalty of national team players with immigrant roots, spilling over into a broader debate in the country of 82 million—including more than three million Turks—about the role of Islam and whether immigrants can be truly German. {snip}

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“I have two hearts, one German and one Turkish…for me, having a picture with President Erdogan wasn’t about politics or elections. It was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country,” Mr. Ozil wrote in his Twitter statement.

He said politicians and commentators were expressing their “previously hidden racist tendencies” and added that he would have such a picture taken again. {snip}

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Germany and Turkey have been locked in a diplomatic dispute since Berlin rejected Mr. Erdogan’s bid to hold election rallies in the country. The majority of Turks in Germany who voted in recent polls supported Mr. Erdogan.

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