“History is a cyclical poem written by a time upon the memories of man” – Percy Bysshe Shelley.
It is indeed true that history is cyclical. It is man’s stubbornness that this unfortunate claim yields true, time and time again. Alas, that is how man is created and unfortunately, how his status will be in the following years. It is inevitable, and frankly, embarrassing. In the light of the recent events involving Mesut Özil, one can say that it is rather surprising this would happen. The premature retirement of a player who is consistently misunderstood is understandable. It is not easy to grasp when the player happens to be one of the best midfielders ever in the history of Deutscher Fußball-Bund. However, a glance at history reveals a sad truth, a ticking time bomb waiting to happen.
Europe. The undisputed land of the greats in football. It is hard to think about a world without Beckenbauer, Maldini, Pirlo and all the other greats this continent has produced. While South America can claim its plaudits for producing the likes of Pelé, it cannot compare with Europe in terms of quantity and the sheer quality of the players produced. While South America can claim Rivaldo and the other greats, Europe will always have a counterpart, but there’s one factor that the Americans will happily let it pass. What’s the factor, you may ask? History.
A paradoxical continent, Europe has always been at war with itself. From the early stages of the French, Spanish and the British Empires, Europe has always been at the center of peculiar, yet self-filling juxtapositions. From being the center stage for some of the world’s bloodiest wars, to being an international broker for peace, from engineering antediluvian systems and practices, to sparking creative revolutions, Europe has seen and done it all. If all countries were people and they were diagnosed for a mental problem, Europe would be bipolar.
In times of division, as is commonplace in Europe, you need a uniting force. No, it’s not the broken European Union. It’s the beautiful game. Football has a power unlike any other. Uniting different people, regardless of their religion, status and wealth disposition. This was the power of a simple game between twenty-two men. Until now. With politics playing an ever bigger role in life and society, it was only a matter of time until players became political puppets, dancing, unbeknownst, to the tune of their political leaders.
Before we dive into the messy Mesut Özil situation, we need to (momentarily) dive into European history. After clearing up the waters, it should be easier for us to spot the oyster.
We will dive in at a time where Europe was at its bloodiest. World War Two. We are not going to focus on the war itself, but the rather the political circumstances of that time. After being massively taxed and humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was left to her own. In a state of abject poverty and utter humiliation, the Germans were angry. Angry, hungry and shame. It was a cocktail of these emotions that Hitler and his regime decided to manipulate. Nominally, they relied on the oldest trick: Scapegoating. A term widely used in the modern world but a tactic that never fails to impress, scapegoating always works. By materializing an abstract emotion, you achieve the impressive task of persuasion. This is exactly what happened in Europe, as concepts of socialism, fascism, and an anti-immigration stance grew.
Slowly but surely, the likes of Japan, Italy adopted this methodology. At the helm, Germany, with its superiority concept reigning over issues of humanity. It is no surprise why extremist right-wingers often refer to those times as Golden Times. By providing special privilege (all of which are basic privileges) to a specific class, you invoke strong concepts of superiority and an air of being arrogant. It is standard for them to refer to these times. Everyone likes when they’re special. The rest is history. While the methodology and its popular variations persisted, eventually they were wiped out by the Allies. Years later, we’ve made it a consistent habit to never to repeat those mistakes. The numerous documentaries, books, and movies have ingrained the concept of dislike and disgust at the effects of “those” concepts. We’ve frowned upon race isolation, focusing on race awareness, bringing people together. It seemed like we had learned our lesson but have we?
It is evident from Mesut Özil’s scapegoating that we haven’t learned our lesson. The same flaws that we glamorize can be our demise. In part due to global events and a breach of safety, Europe has adopted the close-minded thinking, that of the Dark Ages and World War Two. Once again, we see a recurring theme of exclusion and isolation. Once again, we see another example of scapegoating innocent people. Once again, we see the world making another mistake, after having sworn that they wouldn’t dare. Started by the USA (quite poetic, this) and followed up by the likes of Italy and Germany, Europe has shunned its eyes to the visible humanitarian crisis. This has had a massive impact on football and its atmosphere. More and more reports of verbal abuse and outright racism against players have been coming out. Homophobia, sexism, and xenophobia have taken control over football. While rivalries between clubs and countries exist, it doesn’t qualify as hate. Why haven’t we seen this before? Well, it’s been well hidden and disguised until now. With Ozil speaking for his rights, it seems like a cry. A cry that’s removed the blinds that blinded the world to the hidden world of hate and racism however this cry also serves another purpose. A cry to unite. A cry to be a better man. A cry to end hate. Creativity united Europe after the Dark Ages. World inclusion and peace united Europe after World War Two. Perhaps it is time the beautiful game took upon its helm and untied Europe one final time.
As said many times before, Europe is full of juxtapositions. The force that once stopped the malicious rise of exclusion is at the forefront of leading exclusion in the present world. It also seems fitting that the nation, which once, supported the concept try to rebel. Alas, what is likened by man almost never happens but one can dream. A dream that the blinded hate will be stripped out for enlightenment. A dream that Percy will be right once again and Europe will be united.
By: Abhishek Mishra