Özil, my hero of the week

Mesut Özil in 2013. Photo courtesy of Flickr / Hasegawa Takashi under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence
Mesut Özil in 2013. Photo courtesy of Flickr / Hasegawa Takashi under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence. https://www.flickr.com/photos/hase236/10051813073

One football match that still gives me nightmares is a blasé England team’s 4-1 demolition by a far superior Germany side in South Africa in 2010. The memories of Matthew Upson’s inability to cope with Germany’s attacking pace, England’s badly-channelled righteous fury on emerging for the second half after the famous Frank Lampard “ghost goal,” the sight of John Terry so far up the pitch it was scary: these are images still burnt into my mind nearly ten years later.

Key to Germany’s demolition job that day were two players still relatively unknown in England: Sami Khedira (soon to be snapped up by Real Madrid) and Mesut Özil.

Since that day, Özil has undergone a considerable rehabilitation among football fans in England as a result of his move to Arsenal, even if his performances there have often left much to be desired.

“Özil impressed me this week by standing up boldly on Twitter for the Uighur Muslims, more than a million of whom are reportedly detained in ‘re-education’ camps in China’s Xinjiang province.”

However, Özil impressed me this week by standing up boldly on Twitter for the Uighur Muslims, more than a million of whom are reportedly detained in “re-education” camps in China’s Xinjiang province.

As a result of this, China’s foreign ministry accused Özil of taking in “fake news” and proceeded to airbrush him off the internet. Chinese state broadcaster CCTV (how appropriate a name is that!) dropped live coverage of the Arsenal v. Manchester City match on Sunday.

Matthew Syed, writing in the Times yesterday, says that we should not be surprised by China’s aggressive action against Özil and his club in response to his criticism of them. This is characteristic behaviour for the Chinese state ever since its Communist revolution of 1949.

The Barnabas Fund’s prayer diary for today reminds us of the enforced removal of the Ten Commandments from the buildings of state-registered churches and the shutting down of churches which have refused. Meanwhile church pastor Wang Yi continues to be incarcerated by the Chinese authorities.

“These events are reminders that, however much freedom of expression has been eroded in recent years by the angry hordes of Twitter, the West is still a far, far freer place to practise one’s belief than China.”

All these are reminders that, however much freedom of expression has been eroded in recent years by the angry hordes of Twitter, the West is still a far, far freer place to practise one’s belief than China (or indeed Russia).

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday came out in defence of Özil. He said, “The truth will prevail. The CCP [Communist Party of China] can’t hide its gross human rights violations perpetrated against Uighurs and other religious faiths from the world.”

It is a great pity that the European Union is so internally divided, and the US and EU are so divided between them. These trans-Atlantic divisions (indeed, divisions between the US and Canada) were recently set in bold relief at the NATO summit.

Over recent decades China has clearly maintained a policy of using its economic power to exert undue influence over the rest of the world and to suppress global criticism. With a bit more policy cohesion and sustained will between the main Western powers, including the EU, it would be possible to impose wide trade barriers on China (à la Trump’s hard-line approach) that would isolate it and send a message that the West is not open for business to a state — however weighty — which oppresses its religious minorities.

 

 

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