It was more than a little disappointing to see Arsenal put their commercial interests ahead of human rights when they hung Mesut Ozil out to dry with their statement about his comments on the Chinese treatment of the Uighurs.

A supporter of China's Muslim Uighur minority holds a placard of Arsenal's Turkish origin German midfielder Mesut Ozil reading "Thanks for being our voice" past flags of East Turkestan during a demonstration at Beyazid square in Istanbul on December 14, 2019. - Arsenal's Mesut Ozil, a German footballer of Turkish origin, expressed on December 14, 2019 support for Uighurs in Xinjiang and criticised Muslim countries for their failure to speak up for them. (Photo by Ozan KOSE / AFP) (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)
A supporter of China’s Muslim Uighur minority holds a placard of Arsenal’s Turkish origin German midfielder Mesut Ozil reading “Thanks for being our voice” past flags of East Turkestan during a demonstration at Beyazid square in Istanbul on December 14, 2019. – Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, a German footballer of Turkish origin, expressed on December 14, 2019 support for Uighurs in Xinjiang and criticised Muslim countries for their failure to speak up for them. (Photo by Ozan KOSE / AFP)

With around 10 million Uighurs, a minority Turkic ethnic group living in Xinjiang in the northwest of China, there are credible reports that up to 1 million of them are being held in ‘re-education camps’ where they are allegedly subjected to systematic brainwashing that the Chinese refer to as voluntary education and training.

This week, Mesut Ozil took to Twitter to highlight their plight.

Mesut Ozil tweet about Uighur Muslims and their treatment in China
Mesut Ozil tweet about Uighur Muslims and their treatment in China

Translated, Ozil said, “East Turkistan, the bleeding wound of the Ummah, resisting against the persecutors trying to separate them from their religion. They burn their Qurans. They shut down their mosques. They ban their schools. They kill their holy men. The men are forced into camps and their families are forced to live with Chinese men. The women are forced to marry Chinese men.

“But Muslims are silent. They won’t make a noise. They have abandoned them. Don’t they know that giving consent for persecution is persecution itself?”

Arsenal moved swiftly to distance themselves from these comments, tellingly posting their statement on the Chinese platform, Weibo. It does not seem to have been issued to the western press.

They were clear. Ozil did not speak for Arsenal. Once again, Mesut Ozil had spoken out against racism and persecution and once again he was abandoned by the very people who should stand with him.

“Regarding the comments made by Mesut Özil on social media, Arsenal must make a clear statement,” the club wrote. “The content published is Özil’s personal opinion. As a football club, Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.”

The Guardian

This is total and utter bull from the club and shows us clearly that the Arsenal we think we support is no longer the Arsenal that exists. The values we always felt set us apart have gone. We are a club now more concerned with money than human rights and commercial interests over compassion.

In May this year, Arsenal had no problem condemning Valencia fans who were filmed doing Nazi salutes. They didn’t see a need to keep out of that as a political issue.

The club said nothing when Mesut Ozil invited Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be his best man at his wedding. Nor did they issue a statement when he posed with Erdogan for photos before the World Cup causing uproar in Germany. Arsenal said nothing when Ozil accused the German FA of racism. They didn’t see a need there to ensure the German FA knew those were Ozil’s words, not theirs.

Just this week, Hector Bellerin tweeted #fuckboris in the run-up to the UK general election. Arsenal saw no need to issue a statement distancing themselves from that comment, which was significantly more political than Ozil’s plea on the behalf of human beings who are suffering, something that should never be categorised as ‘politics’ in the first place

Emma Mitchell tweeted advising people ‘Don’t be a Tory’. Again, the club said nothing. They didn’t feel the urge to inform the British voting public that, as a club, they held no view about who you should vote for.

via Emma Mitchell on Twitter

When you take a minute to think about it, Bellerin regularly tweets about so-called political issues and the club never say a single word about any of it. Climate change, animal welfare, and abortion have all hit his Twitter feed in the last seven months with not a whisper from Arsenal about how Hector’s opinions are his own and not reflective of the club.

Supporters of China's Muslim Uighur minority hold placards of Arsenal's Turkish origin German midfielder Mesut Ozil during a demonstration at Beyazid square in Istanbul on December 14, 2019. - Arsenal's Mesut Ozil, a German footballer of Turkish origin, expressed on December 14, 2019 support for Uighurs in Xinjiang and criticised Muslim countries for their failure to speak up for them. (Photo by Ozan KOSE / AFP) (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)
Supporters of China’s Muslim Uighur minority hold placards of Arsenal’s Turkish origin German midfielder Mesut Ozil during a demonstration at Beyazid square in Istanbul on December 14, 2019. – Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, a German footballer of Turkish origin, expressed on December 14, 2019 support for Uighurs in Xinjiang and criticised Muslim countries for their failure to speak up for them. (Photo by Ozan KOSE / AFP) (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)

So what is the difference between Mesut Ozil and Hector Bellerin? Why does one tweet deserve rapid action from Arsenal while the other gets no attention at all?

That seems pretty obvious. Hector Bellerin hasn’t gone after China.

Chinese state-run TV have already made the decision not to show Arsenal’s game against Manchester City on Sunday, opting instead for a pre-recorded showing of Spurs v Wolves. That they picked Tottenham of all teams to replace a live Arsenal game tells you this is a punitive action.

It is a warning shot across Arsenal’s bows, even though the London club has already bent the knee. It is the hand of a king slapping the face of his subject. Let there be no misunderstanding that criticism has consequences.

Arsenal regularly issue statements on a wide range of topics that are classed as ‘political’. They support Kick It Out, Rainbow Laces, an end to modern slavery and many more.

Arsenal have no problem getting involved in politics nor staying out of it when their players wade in. This statement was nothing more than a transparent and pathetic attempt to protect commercial interests in the region. Something they clearly see as much more important than either Mesut Ozil or the plight of the Uighurs.

All they care about here is money.

They could have said nothing, like they did when Bellerin tweeted about Boris. They didn’t have to say a thing. Nobody thought what Ozil was saying was a statement from Arsenal. Nobody.

But saying nothing wouldn’t have been enough. An act of contrition was required.

Mesut Ozil is a complicated character, one we’ve already looked at at length before, but there is something known as ‘The Arsenal Way,’ or, at least, there used to be. Standing up for minorities being persecuted is something I’d class as ‘The Arsenal Way’.

Distancing yourself from one of your own, who highlighted an atrocity, in order to placate those committing it, feels a very long distance from that path.