More Than Soccer: Özil’s Resignation Is A Fatal Message For Integration In Germany

Mesut Ozil during the 2018 FIFA World Cup
Mesut Ozil during the 2018 FIFA World Cup
Gökalp Babayiğit


In Germany, there are many people who criticize the policies of Recep Tayyip Erdogan — rightly so. Many of his toughest critics here are Germans with Turkish roots, who also denounce the German government's political deals with Ankara. And many of them are now expressing their solidarity with Mesut Özil, the German-Turkish player who resigned from the German national soccer team after attracting intense criticism in Germany for posing for photographs alongside the Turkish president, just before this summer's World Cup.

Are the two positions compatible? Can one be critical of the president while supporting the soccer star? Anyone who sees an irreconcilable contradiction here is, without realizing it, part of the problem.

Two points in Mesut Özil's resignation letter, which he shared on Twitter, appear to be crucial from the point of view of social and integration policy.


First part of German soccer star Mesut Özil's resignation letter — Source: Official Twitter account

First, there's his justification of how and why he came to take a photo with Erdogan in the middle of an election campaign. Özil writes that he has "two hearts' — a Turkish and a German one. This is understandable, though maybe still a mystery to a majority of Germans.

More difficult to grasp, though, is why these two hearts can't even talk to each other. How else can we explain that Özil doesn't mention, in his long statement, that he finds it wrong that fellow Germans, as well as Turkish opponents, were wrongly imprisoned for months? That he finds it wrong that tens of thousands of innocent Turkish citizens lost their jobs after the July 2016 coup attempt? Especially given that it all happened in violation of the principles of the rule of law, for which at least his German heart should beat.

Mesut Özil writes that he will always treat his ancestors and family traditions with respect. But you can, and must, look at it the other way around: Whoever feels connected to Turkey, whoever loves the country of their parents, should not merely respect the highest state office — they should also stand on the side of the people, in particular when so many are being brutally bullied and oppressed.

The second point, however, has a lot to offer and will hopefully continue to dominate the debate in Germany. Toward the end of his letter, the 29-year-old writes that he is resigning from the national team in the face of countless racist attacks.

He has never been a paragon of integration — which is not at all an accusation against him.

It is telling that the first reactions to Özil's statement chose to focus on the first half of his letter. Many critics indeed preferred to ignore the part about racism — worse, sometimes they even accused him of painting himself as a victim. Such reactions sent the following message to the German-Turkish minority: In Germany, it is still the unaffected majority that gets to define who is exposed to racism and who isn't.

The whole case, and its unfortunate conclusion, highlight one of the biggest misunderstandings around Mesut Özil's persona: He has never been a paragon of integration — which is not at all an accusation against him. His comments on the Erdogan photo provided more evidence of this. Özil never wanted to be this role model. He is simply one of the best soccer players of his generation, whom any national soccer association in the world — including Germany's — should be lucky to have. He is a member of the sport's global elite, ranking among stars who play in Madrid one day and in London the next, and who may sometimes lose touch with the challenges of integration back home.

But the fact remains that the German Football Association, the politicians and the fans wanted him to be a role model. They so badly wanted Özil, who really has nothing to do with politics, to set a shining example, that they showered him with awards and praise. "Look," the message was, "our sport is helping with integration."

And now Özil is being hung out to dry by the very German Football Association that brought him to the fore on every occasion. The fans who used to do nothing but cheer him are now insulting him and would rather send him away, while sponsors and media partners are taking him out of their campaigns.

All of this encourages the German-Turkish minority to feel exactly as Özil says: No matter how much effort you put in, no matter how good you are at your job, no matter how much you contribute to society, in the end, it's not in your hands whether or not you belong to it. In the end, you can always be reduced to your origins, or those of your parents. In the end, there will always be people who deny your being German. Even if you are one of the best soccer players ever to wear the national jersey.

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How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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