Among the accusations Mesut Özil leveled at Germany by Twitter on Sunday, one struck hardest: “I will no longer be playing for Germany at international level whilst I have this feeling of racism and disrespect.”
The midfielder, who’s been a mainstay of the German national team since 2009 and won the 2014 World Cup with it, questioned Germany’s ability to integrate its immigrants and triggered a debate over racism that is being closely watched abroad.
“It rings alarm bells if a great German footballer like Mesut Özil feels no longer wanted in his country because of racism,” said Justice Minister Katarina Barley.
Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul tweeted: “I congratulate Mesut Özil who by leaving the national team has scored the most beautiful goal against the virus of fascism.”
But many other politicians and commentators reiterated their criticism of Mr. Özil for posing for a photo with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May. They said it was a naive move that had aided the re-election campaign of an autocrat who has locked up German nationals.
Discrimination is a fact
Even Foreign Minister Heiko Maas of the center-left Social Democrats, a prominent anti-racism campaigner who has fought to force Facebook to remove hate speech as justice minister, played down the impact of Mr. Özil’s words. “I don’t think the case of a multimillionaire living and working in England says much about Germany’s ability to integrate people,” he said.
But discrimination is a fact. Muslim and black job applicants got 7 percent fewer positive responses than white and Christian applicants, a study by WZB Berlin Social Science Center found last month. The researchers gathered employer responses to 6,000 fictitious applications to real jobs.
“There are many empirical studies that prove discrimination in the job market,” said Herbert Brücker, who heads research in migration issues at the Institute for Employment Research (IAB). He said studies show it still makes a difference whether an applicant is called Michael or Mohammed.
The discrimination is borne out by official statistics that show immigrants are at a significant disadvantage in education, the labor market and income.
The share of immigrants aged 18 to 24 without any school qualifications stands at just over 12 percent compared with around 4 percent for people without foreign roots. It fell to 8.3 percent in 2011 from 10.6 percent in 2005 but has since increased because of the refugee influx.
The migrant share of the working poor has been little changed at 13.6 percent since 2005, more than twice as high as the 6.2 percent share among non-migrants.
Two major traumas
Mr. Özil’s complaint that he wasn’t fully accepted by German society and was treated as “different” risks shattering the confidence Turkish immigrants have in Germany, according to Murat Erdogan, an expert on migration who teaches at Istanbul’s Turkish-German University.
He said the experience of integration for Germany’s Turks is marked by two major traumas. First, the killing of three Turkish girls and two women in a racist arson attack in Solingen in 1993. The second was the murder of 10 people, most of them Turkish immigrants, by the National Socialist Underground neo-Nazi terror cell between 2000 and 2007. Now, Mr. Özil’s accusations risk throwing the integration of many Turks in Germany back by years, he said.
But Haci Halil Uslucan, a researcher on migration at the University of Duisburg-Essen, said Mr. Özil’s case was a perfect example of the integration difficulties and the “identity rift” suffered by many Germans of Turkish descent.
He said that the number of Turkish immigrants who feel more connected to Turkey than Germany had been rising since 2010. The most recent survey found that 61 percent feel strongly attached to Turkey while only 38 percent feel that way about Germany.
Ties to Turkey remain strong among the generation born to Turkish immigrants due to heated debates about Turkey in Germany and migrants being wooed by Turkish politicians. He said those factors are exacerbated by everyday discrimination that makes people feel like second-class citizens.
Experts now worry that Mr. Özil has gone in the last two months from being a poster child for integration to a rebel claiming he’s not accepted in Germany. They fear it could hamper Germany’s increasingly desperate search for foreign workers to fill chronic vacancies in industry as well as healthcare.
“Every form of discrimination causes efficiency losses and is therefore damaging to the economy,” said Mr. Brücker.
Ozan Demircan is Handelsblatt’s Turkey correspondent, Diana Fröhlich writes for Handelsblatt, Franz Hubik covers energy and Frank Specht focuses on labor. To contact the authors: email@example.com.