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Bigotry veiled as liberation

How does the prohibition of burqa dress fit in with pluralism, and does it stem from an undercurrent of prejudice?

Earlier this month, the European court of human rights (ECHR) issued a judgment in which it rejected a challenge to the controversial 2011 French law banning the wearing of face veils in public. The ruling has since sparked national debates across a number of western countries as to whether or not they should follow suit.

Even prior to this ruling, there has been a growing move to ban women from wearing the face veil and headscarf in various countries.

In 2011, both France and Belgium moved to ban the wearing of the face veil in public, with the Netherlands quickly following suit a year later. Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Spain and Australia also have partial or proposed laws seeking to either ban or place restrictions on the face veil and the headscarf. In Germany several states have imposed a ban on all religious symbols in schools, including the headscarf. The suggestion that these restrictions are secular is rubbished by the fact that Christian symbols of dress are exempted, including the nun’s habit – a head covering very similar to the Muslim headscarf.

In certain Muslim countries there are bans on both the face veil and headscarf. For example, in Kosovo, the headscarf is banned in schools and a similar draft law was tabled in Albania. Since the era of Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk, religious symbols such as the fez and the headscarf were viewed as an attack on secularism and a symbol of political Islam. However, unlike Iran’s Reza Shah Pahlavi, who had his security apparatus forcefully remove the hijab (headscarf, veil, full-length garment) from Muslim women in the street, Ataturk focused his attention on male symbols of Islamic dress. It was not until 1984 that the Turkish headscarf ban came into place. Women were both legally and socially prohibited from wearing the headscarf in educational, governmental and political institutions. While recent constitutional court decisions have moved to reverse the ban on the headscarf, the damage to generations of women forced to choose religious conviction over education is irreversible.

A case of the 'Marco Polo syndrome'?

Despite the modern controversy surrounding the veil and headscarf, records of women wearing both items of clothing can be traced back to the noble and elite classes of women who lived in Assyrian and ancient Greek societies. They are also rooted in the Hindu, Judaic and Christian traditions.

In fact, the Muslim-worn face veil and outer garment is nothing new to the western imagination. The 16th-century painting St. Mark Preaching in Alexandria, by the Italian artist Gentile Bellini, depicts a group of Ottoman women, dressed in the full Islamic garb, sitting in a courtyard listening to St. Mark preaching. Descriptions of Muslim women’s dress also reached the west through medieval Byzantine works, the travel logs of famous explorers such as Marco Polo, and the many artistic depictions of Arabic and Persian literature such as the Arabian Nights.

Gerardo Mosquera, the renowned curator, coined the term “Marco Polo syndrome” in the early 90s. The term describes what some view as a modern phenomenon of western and Eurocentric insistence on depicting the “other”, whoever that other might be, through the eyes of western hegemony - reaffirming stereotypical depictions over reality. Mosquera explains: “What is monstrous about this syndrome is that it perceives whatever is different as the carrier of life-threatening viruses rather than nutritional elements.”

In further constructing what Mosquera was alluding to, Professor Rachel Bailey Jones writes: “Within the confines of this syndrome, art created by those outside of the west (sometimes referred to as the rest) is either disregarded as derivative of greater western products, or is valued as exotic, “authentic”, creations of the Other. If the artist does not appropriately reference “traditional” visual codes and represent his/her culture the way that it is imagined in the west, then the artwork is deemed inauthentic and not valued in the establishment.'

Though Mosquera coined this term with art in mind, it might be fair to suggest that the Muslim women’s dress invokes within the western mind a type of Marco Polo syndrome. A contention supported by the ever-present fact that many in the western world consider both the veil and headscarf as oppressive symbols of the non-western Muslim “other”, a representation as it were of the inequalities of the East.

Western disdain

Ironically, the man who “liberated” veiled women in France was the now infamous former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. Describing why he felt the veil should be banned, he told his ministers, “We are an old country anchored in a certain idea of how to live together. A full veil which completely hides the face is an attack on those values, which for us are so fundamental.”

Since 2011, in Canada a prospective citizen cannot become a fully fledged Canadian unless she removes her veil during the citizenship ceremony when an oath of allegiance is sworn. In the UK, the former cabinet minister and stalwart of British politics, Ken Clarke, described the niqab - a type of veil - as a “kind of bag”. Incidentally, a recent report published about rising figures of Islamophobia in the UK found that at the head of the list of those subject to verbal and physical attacks were women – particularly those wearing the veil. And in Germany, it is telling that the headscarf is in some states acceptable if worn as a Christian symbol in schools, but unacceptable when placed on a Muslim woman’s head.

Therefore, far from being a theory, the Marco Polo syndrome is embodied in laws and opinions across the western world and its social elite.

Writing in the Telegraph, the author and columnist Allison Pearson wrote: “How does banishing her (ie, the veiled woman) from public engagement promote liberal attitudes? Well, you are not banning her from public places, are you? That is her choice. You are saying that, if she wishes to be part of western society, then she must adopt a style of dress outside the home that shows she is willing to be part of the community. An unveiled face is a bare minimum in this regard. The burka and niqab are hostile and scary to our eyes ... many of us are offended and perturbed by the sight of a woman wandering around in a binbag, condemned to be cut off from normal human interaction in a modern democracy.”  

This is a growing attitude in the media that could quite easily be perceived as a projection of western ideals on the “other'” - in this case the Muslim - rather than as a result of the desire to protect the great pluralistic values that are central to western democracy. And it is here that we find the recent ECHR ruling on the French ban rather disturbing.

Matthew Flinn insightfully points out that serious concerns arise from the recent decision because it was arrived at on the basis of a right that simply does not exist in the European convention of human rights - that is, the right “to live in a space of socialisation which makes living together easier.” 

Flinn poses the question: “… the idea that such a right may be protected where someone’s behaviour is at odds with those values which form part of an ‘established consensus’. What does this mean in terms of the protection of minorities, whose values and attitudes may be different in any number of ways, and at times may upset or irk the majority? Can my rights to express myself in a peaceful way be curtailed because I make you uncomfortable or cause tension? Read in that light, it is not unimaginable that this judgment could be relied upon by governments in the future as justifying legislation which is downright discriminatory.”

Protecting rights, not social norms

The Arab uprisings, supported almost unanimously by the west, have seen much of the Arab world spill its blood and wealth to oppose the very form of autocracy that the veil and headscarf bans seek to impose.

And so a nation enters upon a slippery slope when the legislature begins to dictate what forms of dress should be deemed “intimidating”. If it is the face veil or headscarf today, then tomorrow it could well be people’s piercings, hair colour, tattoos, facial hair, turbans, crosses, or skull caps – all being things which some people find unsettling.

It seems fair to say that any move to legislate what is intimidating, or the correct doctrinal approach, should not arise in a secular and pluralistic society. Meaningful questions should surround whether or not various modes of dress amount to illegality within the secular legal framework. In answering this question, it would certainly be legitimate to argue that it is both in the public interest and safety for women to remove their face veils on the basis of security (ie, at airports, on entering restricted buildings, or on arrest, etc.). It is also a must that the law punishes anyone who forces a woman to veil her face.

But of what benefit would it be to the rule of law for women to be denied self-determination by preventing them from choosing the type of dress they want to wear under ordinary circumstances? Such a move could be interpreted as an assertion of western hegemony.

The legislature exists to maintain a fair and just balance of rights. It is not in place to remove the rights of minorities – in this case a tiny minority of women who wear veils - purely for the comfort of the majority. This would amount to an intolerance beyond the dignity of democracy and, as Ghandi famously stated: “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.”

Progress, tolerance and mutual respect cannot flourish unless the prevalent Marco Polo syndrome is relegated to a thing of the past.

- Adam Walker has published works on various issues related to the history, law and social affairs of the MENA region. He is also co-editor of the first western encyclopaedia on the Prophet Muhammad.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo credit: Pupils attend an Arabic course, on October 16, 2012, in a classroom at the European Institute of Social Sciences in France (AFP)

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees please contact us. More about MEE can be found here.

Qatar World Cup 2022: Morocco fans latest to unfurl 'Free Palestine' banner

Submitted by MEE staff on Sun, 11/27/2022 - 17:08
Fans of Atlas Lions raised flag referencing 1948's Nakba in 48th minute of their stunning victory over Belgium on Sunday. On Saturday, Tunisian fans had done the same
Morocco fans cheer during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group F football match between Belgium and Morocco at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on 27 November 2022 (AFP)
Morocco fans cheer during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group F football match between Belgium and Morocco at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on 27 November 2022 (AFP)
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Moroccan football fans unfurled a "Free Palestine" banner in the 48th minute of their stunning 2-0 Qatar World Cup victory against last tournament's semi-finalists Belgium on Sunday, in reference to what is known by Arabs as the 1948 Nakba, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their homeland by Zionist militias.

The Atlas Lions, ranked 22nd in the global rankings, beat the world's second-best team in a pulsating Group F match at Doha's Al-Thumama Stadium, inching closer to qualifying for the knockout stages.

On Saturday, Tunisian fans had also unfurled a "Free Palestine" flag at exactly the same time during their World Cup group game against Australia, which they went on to lose 1-0.

Despite Palestine not qualifying for the tournament, which is being held in the Middle East for the first time, its national flag has become a ubiquitous symbol throughout the event.

Moroccan, Tunisian and other Arab footballing fans have made a point of displaying Palestinian flags and wearing Palestinian shawls over their shoulders. 

Before Sunday's match, Moroccan fans in Doha's Souq Waqif were seen wearing the kufiya and chanting a famous Palestine chant.

Such is this positive sentiment and regional solidarity towards Palestine that in one viral video, an Egyptian fan, smiling, leans into the camera of an Israeli broadcaster and relays a simple message: "Viva Palestine."

In December 2020, Morocco became the fourth Arab country to normalise ties with Israel, a deal brokered by then-US President Donald Trump.

In return for following the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in creating full diplomatic relations with Israel, the United States recognised Morocco's sovereignty in Western Sahara.

The Morocco normalisation deal was condemned by many as a great loss for the Sahrawis of Western Sahara and Palestinians alike.

Third major win

The Sunday result was the third major win for Middle East and North African nations at this year's World Cup, after Saudi Arabia's historic win over Argentina and Iran's vital victory over Wales.

Qatar is the only Middle Eastern team to be knocked out of the tournament so far after losing their two opening matches.

Iran, with three points so far, will play a winner-takes-all match against the US on Tuesday, where avoiding defeat could see them through while a win will ensure they advance.

Saudi Arabia will be in a similar position when they play Mexico on Wednesday.

Tunisia - playing on the same day but with just one point after two matches - faces the toughest challenge to advance as they need a win over champions France.

Morocco fans latest to unfurl 'Free Palestine' banner at Qatar World Cup
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World Cup 2022: Morocco stuns Belgium in second Arab win

Submitted by MEE staff on Sun, 11/27/2022 - 14:56
The Atlas Lions inch closer to qualification after an impressive display against the 2018 World Cup semi-finalists
Morocco's players celebrate their team's goal against Belgium at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on 27 November 2022 (Reuters)
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Morocco pulled off the second major Arab win at the 2022 Qatar World Cup on Sunday, beating last tournament's semi-finalists Belgium in Group F and inching closer to qualifying for the knockout stages.

The Atlas Lions, ranked 22nd in the global rankings, beat the world's second-best team 2-0 in a pulsating match at Doha's Al-Thumama Stadium.

Midfielder Abdelhamid Sabiri opened the score sheet in the 73rd minute from a free kick near the corner flag that caught out Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois at the near post.

As Belgium put pressure in the final minutes to chase a result, substitute Zakaria Aboukhlal added a second in stoppage time, set up by Hakim Ziyech. 

Supported by thousands of fans, the North African team put on an impressive display throughout the match and scored another goal in the final moments of the first half that was later disallowed as an offside by VAR check.

Qatar World Cup: A historic tournament for Arab nations, on and off the pitch
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The win took Morocco to the top of their group with four points. They now need at least a draw from the final match against Canada on Thursday to advance to the next round.

Morocco has only won two games in five of its previous World Cup tours, against Scotland in 1998 and Portugal in 1986, the year it qualified for the knockout stages for the first and only time.

The Sunday result is the third major win for Middle East and North African nations at this year's World Cup, after Saudi Arabia's historic win over Argentina and Iran's vital victory over Wales.

Qatar is the only Middle Eastern team to be knocked out of the tournament so far after losing their two opening matches.

Iran, with three points so far, will play a winner-takes-all match against the US on Tuesday where avoiding defeat could see them through while a win will ensure they advance.

Saudi Arabia will be in a similar position when they play Mexico on Wednesday.

Tunisia - playing on the same day but with just one point after two matches - faces the toughest challenge to advance as they need a win over champions France.

Morocco stuns Belgium in second Arab World Cup win
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World Cup 2022: US team distorts Iran flag ahead of football clash

Submitted by MEE staff on Sun, 11/27/2022 - 14:37
Iran's football body official says complaint will be filed to Fifa over 'unethical and illegal' omission
Iran's fans celebrate at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between Wales and Iran at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on 25 November 2022 (AFP)
Iran's fans celebrate at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between Wales and Iran at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on 25 November 2022 (AFP)
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Iran's football federation will file a complaint to Fifa against the US team for removing Iran's emblem from the flag in an online post, the football body's legal adviser said on Sunday.

The banner of the US football team's Twitter account briefly displayed the flag of Iran, who they are set to play against on Tuesday in a vital World Cup clash, with the red, white and green stripes but without the central emblem that reads "Allah", a symbol associated with the country's 1979 revolution.

The same distorted flag was used on official Twitter and Instagram posts published on 25 November. The Twitter banner restored Iran's official flag on Sunday afternoon and the posts were removed after criticism was mounting online.

Screenshot of now-removed Twitter post by
Screenshot of deleted Twitter post by @USMNT published on 25 November showing a distorted Iran flag (MEE)

Safia Allah Faghanpour, the legal adviser of the Iranian football federation, said the emblem omission was "unethical", according to the Iranian news agency Tasneem.

"Respecting a nation's flag is an accepted international practice that all other nations must emulate. The action conducted in relation to the Iranian flag is unethical and against international law," Faghanpour said.

It was not immediately clear on what basis the complaint will be lodged.

The semi-official agency Tasneem cited section 13 of Fifa's disciplinary code which states that offence to "the dignity or integrity of a country" is punishable with a "suspension lasting at least 10 matches or a specific period, or any other appropriate disciplinary measure". 

The typography of the "Allah" emblem in the current Iranian flag is designed to look like a sword, which represents strength and patriotism. Some also believe the five parts of the emblem symbolise the five pillars of Islam, as well as a tulip, which is a symbol commonly used to remember those who died for Iran.

The symbol was added to the flag in 1980, replacing the Lion and Sun emblem used in the flag before the Islamic Revolution, and today invoked by opposition groups and anti-government protesters.  

Mind games

The US football federation, the USMNT, said in a statement that it changed the flag for 24 hours to show "support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights", according to the Associated Press.

Iran has been engulfed in two-month-long protests that were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody after they stopped her for allegedly wearing her headscarf "inappropriately".

Iranian authorities have responded with heavy force. An estimated 300 people have been killed in the unrest so far.

London's Iranian diaspora crams into Irish pub for match of mixed emotions
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Iranian players have previously accused their adversaries in the World Cup group of using the protests to play mind games and put them under pressure ahead of matches.

Before the opening match against England, Iranian winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh accused British media of playing a 'mental game' by asking players to comment on the protests.

After a pre-match press conference last week, Iran's coach Carlos Queiroz confronted a BBC journalist over questions asked to Iranian players about the unrest back home.

He asked if it was fair to put political questions to football players of Iran but not other countries.

"Why don't you ask the other coaches? Why don't you ask [England manager Gareth] Southgate: 'What do you think about England, the United States and [pulling out of] Afghanistan?" he said.

Iran is set to play the US on Tuesday in a decisive winner-takes-all match that could see Team Melli reach the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time in history.

USA team distort Iran flag ahead of World Cup clash
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Qatar World Cup: Queiroz criticises Klinsmann's 'Iran culture' remarks on BBC

Submitted by MEE staff on Sun, 11/27/2022 - 11:28
Former German footballer says words were taken out of context after scathing critique by Iran's coach
Iran's Portuguese head coach Carlos Queiroz attends a press conference in Doha on 24 November 2022, on the eve of the match between Wales and Iran (AFP)
Iran's Portuguese head coach Carlos Queiroz attends a press conference in Doha on 24 November 2022, on the eve of the match between Wales and Iran (AFP)
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Iran's football coach has lambasted BBC pundit Jurgen Klinsmann after his analysis of the Iranian team's performance against Wales in the World Cup was perceived as offensive.

Carlos Queiroz on Saturday accused the former German player and coach of questioning him with a "typical prejudiced [judgement] of superiority" and called his remarks about Iranian culture and the national team a "disgrace to football".

Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Sunday, Klinsmann said his comments were misunderstood and taken out of context. He said he would try to call Queiroz to "calm things down". 

The controversy started on Friday after Klinsmann answered a question on BBC's post-match analysis regarding Iran's "attitude" and "gamesmanship" in the match.

Klinsmann said Iran's gamesmanship and working of the referee was "part of their culture".

"Carlos [Queiroz] fits really well with the national team and their culture. He failed in South America with Colombia and then failed to qualify with Egypt, and he came in right before the World Cup with Iran, where he worked for a long time," the former German striker said. 

"It is not by coincidence, it is part of their culture, how they play. They worked the referee. They work the linesman and fourth official, they are constantly in their ear. There were a lot of incidents we didn't see. This is their culture, they take you off your game."

Klinsmann came under criticism from many people online calling his remarks "racist" and "dismissive" of athletes in the Global South.

Queiroz, the longest-serving coach of Iran over two spells, responded to Klinsmann on Saturday in a series of tweets.  

"No matter how much I can respect what you did inside the pitch, those remarks about Iran Culture, Iran National Team and my Players are a disgrace to Football," the Portuguese coach said. 

"Nobody can hurt our integrity if it is not at our level, of course."

Queiroz went on to invite Klinsmann to visit the Iranian team's camp, meet the players and learn about Persian culture.

However, Queiroz asked Klinsmann to resign from his role in the Qatar 2022 technical study group first. 

On Sunday morning, Klinsmann said his words were "taken out of context".

"I have never criticised Carlos or the Iranian bench. Some even thought I was criticising the referee because he didn't do anything about the way they were behaving on the bench," he told BBC. 

"All I described was their emotional way of doing things, which is actually admirable in a certain way. The whole bench lives the game. They're jumping up and down and Carlos is a very emotional coach, he's constantly on the sidelines trying to give his players all his energy and direction."

Western coverage

Queiroz has been outspoken about western coverage of his team during the World Cup. 

After a pre-match press conference last week, Queiroz confronted a BBC journalist over questions asked to Iranian players about the unrest back home.

The beautiful game meets ugly western bigotry
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He asked if it was fair to put political questions to football players of Iran but not other countries.

"Why don't you ask the other coaches? Why don't you ask [England manager Gareth] Southgate: 'What do you think about England, the United States and [pulling out of] Afghanistan?" he said.

After their stunning 2-0 victory of Wales on Friday, Queiroz praised his players for their win which put them in a good position to make it out of the group stage for the first time in history.

"They deserve all the attention and respect. I think today people understand these boys love to play football. Again, the players deserve to be supported and we did it for them. That's the only reason we are here, to play for the fans," Queiroz said.

Iran will play against the United States on Tuesday in a decisive match in which a draw could see them through while a win would guarantee them a place in the next round.

Queiroz criticises Klinsmann's 'Iran culture' remarks on BBC
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World Cup 2022: Questions of identity cast shadow over German football

Submitted by Sal Ahmed on Sun, 11/27/2022 - 08:56
Germans of Turkish descent, the country's largest minority group, struggle with identity in the realm of sport
According to estimates, almost four million people of Turkish descent live in Germany (AFP/File photo)
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Sezgin Aksakal's a regular fixture at his 11-year-old son's football practice. 

The former Hertha Berlin midfielder passionately cheers on the team, hoping to inspire one of the youngsters to emulate the path set by himself and Mehmet Scholl, a German-born Turkish footballer who won an unprecedented eight titles with Bayern Munich.

It's a nice club, he told Middle East Eye, whispering: "It's a small club. No racism here. They're nice, fair people, tolerant of others."

'The Turkish German community suffers from lasting generational trauma'

Aslihan Yesilkaya, Turkish Association of Germany

His words ring true. Looking across the touchline, there are a few mothers in headscarves at the beautifully turfed ground which sits just a few miles from the mainly Turkish neighbourhood of Neukolln.

Football has a powerful cross generational appeal in Germany, but especially so within Berlin's Turkish community.

The Bundesliga has seen the meteoric rise of German-born Turkish stars such as Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan. Still, Sezgin suggests the development of minority or Turkish-influenced football points to local struggles for multiculturalism that often elude discussions of integration.

In the 80s and 90s, young Turkish boys knew their place, he said. "In the old days, with someone like me, there were two problems: first, I was Turkish and second, I was Muslim."

Sezgin was an early inspiration for many young Turkish German children and while his dreams of playing for the national side never materialised, he hopes there will be a level playing field for his son's generation.

Sezgin Aksakal watches from the sidelines at his 11-year-old son's football practice (MEE/Sal Ahmed)
Sezgin Aksakal watches his 11-year-old son's football practice from the sidelines (MEE/Sal Ahmed)

Identity Crisis

Almost 3.7 million people of Turkish origin or descent live in Germany, but the country's largest minority group remains deeply marginalised.

According to German government statistics from 2016, only 246,000 German Turks hold German citizenship, leading many to suffer an identity crisis, Sezgin laments.

Several generations of Turks live in Germany on long-term or permanent residencies, which may suggest why there is little to no loyalty to Germany, he added.

World Cup 2022: American Muslims 'identify' with US team despite off-the-field drama
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Aslihan Yesilkaya, the co-chairperson of the Turkish Association of Germany, told MEE that "among the varying degrees of problems [the community faces], identity crisis is big among German Turks".

"In a recent anti-racism survey, 65 percent of the respondents said they experienced discrimination or know someone who has. Every time we've tried to talk about racism and discrimination we have been ignored. Germany does have a problem with structural racism, it's in the school, in the workplace, and in society."

According to a 2019 Federal Employment Agency report, 46 percent of Germany's 2.27 million unemployed represented ethnic minority communities, despite the fact that those communities only make up 23 percent of the population. 

The agency also found that people with 'foreign-sounding names' were 24 percent less likely than those with German names to be called in for job interviews. 

"The Turkish German community suffers from lasting generational trauma," Yesilkaya said. "Stories of discrimination and racism spanning a lifetime are not uncommon." 

'Cycle of marginalisation'

Yesilkaya's Turkish Association of Germany is a voluntary body which advocates on behalf of Germany's Turkish community. Yesilkaya, 35, is a lawyer by profession. Her inspiration to give back to her community comes from years of discrimination she suffered since school.

In Germany's two track education system, teachers decide if their child-student has the acumen and the aptitude to go to university. Depending on the teacher's appraisal, a child can be put through what is known as the 'Gymnasium' school system – which readies a child for further university education. 

However, should a teacher decide a child is not good enough to go to university, they will be pushed through the 'Hauptschule' track, which means they go into a special system which gets them ready for a life of skilled labour. 

'Even with Ozil - when he played well he was German, when he didn't, he was Turkish'

Sezgin Aksakal, former Hertha Berlin midfielder

This crucial decision is made when the child is just 11.

Historical patterns suggest that children from immigrant backgrounds usually end up in vocational training centres learning some variety of skill to be employed in Germany's industrial base. 

A 2013 report by the Open Society Justice Initiative suggests that while 50 percent of white German school children managed to go through the more-thorough education stream, less than 33 percent of children from migrant families managed the same.

Katrine Thomasen, an advocacy officer with the Open Society Justice Initiative, said "evidence demonstrates that children of Turkish, Kurdish or Arabic backgrounds - known as 'migrant' children in Germany even if they are the second or even third generation of immigrants - wind up in disproportionate numbers in the lowest level, Hauptschule, condemning them to a cycle of marginalisation".

Divided Loyalties?

Back on the football field, Sezgin is carefully optimistic over his son's future.

"Players like Ozil and others opened the door for our children. Now, hopefully, they too can play for bigger clubs and the national team," he said. "But even with Ozil - when he played well he was German, when he didn't, he was Turkish."

Ozil came under renewed criticism after Germany lost 2-0 to South Korea at the 2018 World Cup and crashed out at the group stage, as well as his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The former Real Madrid and Arsenal star quit the national team, citing the "racism and disrespect" he faced, and defended his right to meet Erdogan. "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," he wrote on Twitter.

"My job is a football player and not a politician, and our meeting was not an endorsement of any policies. The treatment I have received from the DFB and many others makes me no longer want to wear the German national team shirt. I feel unwanted and think what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten."

Ironically, one South Korean player in that 2018 World Cup team which beat Germany had his own score to settle. Speaking to a UK newspaper earlier this year, South Korean Golden Boot winner and Spurs striker Son Hueng-min revealed the racism he was subject to as a teenage footballer after joining Hamburg's youth team in 2010.

He said his most memorable career moment was South Korea's stunning victory over Germany and how he felt he avenged the years of racism he suffered while playing in Germany.

While Sezgin dreams of his son playing for the German national team, he admits, "boys from minority backgrounds need to be remarkably better than white German boys to make it into any team".

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Questions of identity among immigrants cast shadow over German football
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