Crime In Mexico, Getting Used To A Warped Idea Of Normal

The state of insecurity in Mexico has gone beyond isolated remedies like tweaking laws or reforming agencies. It is so ingrained that people are getting acclimated.

Children decorating chalk outlines in Oaxaca, Mexico
Children decorating chalk outlines in Oaxaca, Mexico
Luis Rubio


MEXICO CITY — The world changes when people grow accustomed to the unacceptable, and come to view unnatural states like physical insecurity as perfectly natural. In Mexico, instead of protesting and demanding a security system that serves people's needs, we try to simply get used to life under the yoke of organized crime and its offshoots.

The collective failure of recent governments to find a solution has been as blatant as their complacency. Instead of effective leadership, Mexicans have been led by defeatists. And the current round of campaign proposals, including one from the leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador touting an amnesty for criminals, are added to this defeatism. It's more of the same, but possibly worse.

People adapt to their environment, as humans tend to do. But this is a dangerous trait when it comes to security, as it implies there will be no calls for a security system to satisfy the public and transform the country.

It is a phenomenon that goes far beyond crime. The informal economy is an example of the costs of getting used to something that is wrong. Instead of progressing and prospering, people who live this way end up trapped in it. It yields them a living, but these are precisely the people who constitute the voting constituencies of politicians inclined to keep the existing order — or disorder. Corruption is the same: It may satisfy an immediate need (like getting some paper signed), but may prevent bureaucratic formalities from ever being cut out or simplified. Private security, higher property fences or spikes are ultimately ploys that relieve the pressure on those who should be curbing crime and fomenting peaceful coexistence.

The problem is not the criminals, but the absence of the state.

As citizens move away from a world where rules matter, government institutions start to become irrelevant, aggravating the crises of trust and credibility that afflict them. For many voters, López Obrador's attraction does not lie in his original or positive ideas — for he has very few of those — but precisely in the opposite. Since everything has proven useless, people think, let's sink further into the "traditional" habits that precisely obstruct solutions. Crossing that line means fewer possibilities of building a democratic system with checks and balances and a degradation of political institutions. As the sociologist Max Weber stated, criminals end up becoming the state as they monopolize the application of physical force.

Seized weapons in Medellin, Colombia — Photo: Leon Solano/ZUMA

Recent proposals by candidates and officials have focused on reforming existing laws or even agencies (the single police authority being a favorite). These are legitimate but as Colombia's quite successful example shows, none of this changes the reality until the government accepts it is responsible for people's security, and is ready to change the institutional state behind our chaos and law-breaking. In Colombia, a succession of governments changed the country when they recognized that the problem was not the criminals but the absence of the state — which meant taking steps to build a new state, with all its implications.

Reforming institutions in a general environment of impunity and corruption is more an obstacle than a solution. Reforms will succeed only within a generalized transformation of the political system. In contrast with extremist solutions, be they an amnesty or more fire power against crime, Colombia showed there could not be half-way solutions. Either reform government in its entirety or expect to return to square one, as the changing fortunes of our federal police force have shown in recent years.

Mexico is in a critical moment. Insecurity is growing, feeding on years of government inaction. We should not dismiss the threat of permanent insecurity becoming our "new normality" nor, judging by proposals to negotiate with and pardon criminals, the prospect of ending up living in a drug state.

Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges once criticized Latin America's spirit of contempt for the law and shared resignation toward lawlessness. Being alive, he said, did not mean being ignorant. No, ignorance is an obstinate failure to find solutions to urgent problems.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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