Category Archives: Politics

Arrested leader of Drug ‘cult’ had Wild At Heart as required reading

News broke yesterday that Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas aka El Chango (the monkey), the leader of ‘La Familia’ had been arrested by federal authorities in Mexico.

The arrest of the Cartel boss who had a $2M bounty on his head, may or may not spell the end of the group’s five year reign of terror.

La Familia was founded in 2006 by Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, who was killed in December. Gonzalez had split off from the Los Zetas cartel – a notorious group of gunmen who were originally set up as a mercenary army by former Mexican special forces soldiers. He set up La Familia as a kind of vigilante syndicate to crack down on crime in the state, but things changed very quickly, and after seizing control of drugs manufacture and smuggling routes, it became a massive organised crime body itself. Left: Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, right: Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas. 

But the story of La Familia, also known as La Familia Michoacana after the state in which they are based, is made all the more bizarre by its incorporation of evangelical Christian teachings into its indoctrination of new members.

And notably – or at least newsworthy, the bizarre inclusion of the evangelical Christian self help book ‘Wild At Heart’ by well known author John Eldredge – as a kind of ‘set text’ for gang members.

La Familia were/are known as the biggest exporters of methamphetamine into the USA. But they are involved in much more than just smuggling drugs, they have been running a kind of parallel economy in the state of Michoacan where they charge taxes and run a violent protection racket, seemingly controlling elements of local government across the state.

Their reputation is one of extreme violence, but that violence is only directed towards men (not women or children), and in particular only those who they say ‘deserve to die’. They mete out what they consider to be ‘divine justice’ via beheadings and other brutal actions, and celebrate family values through a commitment to a sort of evangelical Christianity.

The founder, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez aka El Mas Loco (the craziest one), who died last year wrote and self published a ‘bible’ of Christian aphorisms inspired by his own beliefs. These were of a kind of muscular Christianity, one which allwed for brutal killings so long as they were ‘just’ – and presumably allowed also for drug trafficking and other criminal activities, which suited a bigger purpose.

The cartel has become known for – as well as its extreme violence – establishing large scale poverty alleviation projects and encouraging people through de-tox programmes. These outlets invite comparison with the outlaw legend Robin Hood, who famously ‘robbed from the rich, and gave to the poor’ and had God on his side as he battled the corrupt authorities.

One of the strangest parts of the story is the incoporation of the book ‘Wild At Heart’ by American author John Eldredge in to the teachings of the cartel. Spanish translations of Wild At Heart, which has become a popular text for Evangelical Christians around the world who are eager to recapture an image of masculinity from an ‘emasculated’ church culture, have been found in the group’s safe houses. It is thought that it was originally brought back to Mexico by Gonzalez after a smuggling trip. He went on to incorporate many quotes from the book into the group’s handbook.

Critics have pointed to Eldredge’s characterisation of masculinity, which includes the idea that men instinctively love weapons, and that they need to have a ‘battle to fight’ and a ‘divine mission’ as having fueled the fire of Gonzalez’ messianic urges.

Eldredge on the other hand has defended his book, pointing out that many texts have been misinterpreted, and later suggesting that perhaps reading his book may help gang members change their ways.

He said that if gang members actually read the book: “they would know that submission to Jesus is central to the entire message. They seemed to have missed the central point, which gives context to everything else.”

It is not clear what will happen next with La Familia, the cartel which had begun life as a vigilante group claiming to protect the state from evil, had offered to do a deal with Federal authorities, saying they would disband if Mexican government officials promised to safeguard  Michoacan. They wrote: “We have decided to retreat and return to our daily productive activities if the federal and local authorities … promise to take control of the state with force and decision.”

La Familia’s claim that if they were to disband without an agreement, then their base would be taken over by rival gangs and corrupt authorities is probably true. At any rate, there is no shortage of candidates for the post of Jefe within the cartel, and if it does collapse, it is more likely to be through internal strife than because of this arrest. So whatever happens next, things are unlikely to get much better in Mexico, where President Calderon’s drug war has seen 4,000 people die in the last five years.

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Osama – the making of a myth

In the much publicised end of Osama Bin Laden’s life this week, the US military seem less likely to have pulled off a geo political coup, than to have bolstered their president’s domestic popularity.

The reported killing, which will evidently not now be officially ‘proved’ by photographs, and which will probably always be questioned by conspiracists, is not going to bring an end to anything much, but is likely to put a upwards spike in Obama’s popularity ratings. ‘Hot damn!’

While it has been lauded and applauded in some circles, and sadly accepted or even mourned in others – the fact is that the killing of Osama Bin Laden is very unlikely to change much in terms of global terrorism or the Jihadi movement. I am unaware of any major conspiracy in which Bin Laden has been sited as a key player in the last few years. Indeed if he has indeed been hiding out all this time, it seems likely that a significant amount of effort and expense has been spent by the Mujahideen to keep him hidden, presumably those resources will now be redirected.

As I mentioned of course, there have been numerous conspiracy theories doing the rounds for the last decade or so – initially that Bin Laden was a CIA stooge, then later that he was already in captivity, or even dead. Now it seems that he actually is dead – will this news end the conspiracy speculation?

Unlikely – in fact the muddy waters surrounding his death are only likely to further fuel the theorists imaginations. Why no pictures? How could he have lived there in the first place? What about the conflicting reports from different intelligence agencies about who tipped of whom about the compound and when? Why the mysterious burial at sea?

As it goes, I have no problem believing it – but in a world where nothing is real unless its televised, simulcasted, micro blogged (actually this one was almost tweeted) or captured by video on a mobile phone – is Osama Bin Laden really dead?

In some ways of course, he isn’t. Bin Laden had long since stopped being the central mover of a global terror network – Al Quaida is a movement, its very strength is the fact that it is totally decentralised and capable to working independently in small cells. In some ways, you might say Bin Laden had long since stopped being a man. Rather Bin Laden was a centralised myth, an icon, a bogey man figure who represented the very otherness of the Jihadi movement. With his well photographed beard, turban and combat jacket he depicted for many ‘the evil of the east’. Variously described as a wealthy Saudi, a desert fighter, a plotter, a devout Muslim – he was everything the west had to fear in an age when old antipathy with communist Russia had died away.

But aside from a few videos and an ongoing drip drip of reports of his suspected wherabouts, Bin Laden has had little to contribute to the narrative of the West’s ongoing struggle against evil. His killing was, a cynic might say, rather well timed for the American cause. It also leaves the stage now open for a new focus on the evil of… well take your pick – could be Gadaffi, although we’ve not heard much about Iran recently, so perhaps they are in for it next.

Osama Bin Laden was less of a person, more of a talisman. He represents a personifiable evil which suits the dualistic approach of Western (and Muslim) thinking. For us to be good, someone somewhere must be evil. By focusing on him, we’ve endowed him with mythical status, the evil murdering Muslim who would slit your baby’s throat and set fire to your house as soon as look at you. They seek him here, they seek him there… But at the end it turns out he’s just a man, easily killed by the elite forces of good, who have God on their side.

I don’t know if this makes much sense to anyone but me, but I really see this whole story as much more to do with reinforcing a narrative than the death of a terrorist.

So while the man may indeed be dead (I think he is) Osama Bin Laden lives on. His name, his image, his ideology, his myth remains strong. What he represented to people on either side of the struggle remains – just in different form. Osama Bin Laden lives on in despised dictators, in turbaned Mujahideen, in council estate boys trying to come to terms with confused ethnic and religious identities, in geo political power struggles, in history which is now being written by everyone.

He was – is, a mythical figure for the digital age. Thousands of images peer out of websites into the hearts of presidents and teenage wannabes. His thin smile adorns the targets of rifle enthusiasts, who take careful aim at the spot between the eyes. His name lives on in the world where turbaned arabs are ‘rag heads’ and where an aeroplane crashlanding is automatically assumed to be a terrorist plot.

It’s a sad week really – those who live by the sword are indeed likely to die by it, but regardless – this miserable life ending means nothing in terms of bringing peace to a world full or hatred and pain. Rather we have endowed his myth with a measure of immortality, the same sort enjoyed by James Dean and Che Guevarra – and sold to another, future, generation the other myth of redemptive violence – which works for all of us, whether we believe in a martyr’s paradise or the triumph of God over his foes.

I won’t be mourning or celebrating his death, I am mourning the the ongoing death of a world which seems determined to tear itself apart, to demonise and antagonise, to find immortality in human endeavour, and to define itself by opposition and duality.

What this death reminds me of most powerfully, is the need to recall that there is no them – there is only us.

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whoever said the revolution would not be televised?

Whoever said the revolution would not be televised was wrong.

The revolution was not only widely televised.

It was blogged.

Tweeted.

Texted.

Uploaded.

And generally broadcast more widely than any other revolution ever has been.

Peace to Egypt.

Shame on the hypocrites around the world who have supported Mubarak’s dictatorship all this time. The question now becomes, what will happen next?

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ASBO RIP?

I understand that our political masters have decided to try and replace the ASBO, with a couple of new ideas, in particular the Criminal Behaviour Order.

The main problem with all this – is that ASBO sounds great.

You can call people ‘an ASBO’.

You can talk of ‘ASBOs’ as naughty people.

On our allotment site, there was an allotment which belonged to ‘the ASBOs’. Incidentally one of them set fire to their own shed. They havent been back.

What on earth are we going to say if they bring in this Criminal Behaviour order?I heard one wag suggest ‘CRIMBOs’ – which is seven types of wrong.

Where we live there are lots of ASBOs handed out, I’m amazed I havent got one myself, I’m the only person I know without one.

If you have a good idea for what we can call naughty people, why not leave it in the comments.

 

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reflections on the papal visit

Not being a Catholic, I didnt have much invested in the recent visit of Pope Benedict. However, I didn’t like the way certain sections of the Christian world kicked up a fuss about the visit in advance, and on the whole I thought that Benedict and his team made a good fist of the public relations surrounding the visit.

I think in general there is now much more good feeling towards the institution of the Catholic church in the UK than there was before hand. He even seemed somehow to smooth over things with the Anglicans, even managing to make a positive out of what could have been seen as the extraordinarily provocative beatification of Newman.

However, all the positive PR and potential for political upset aside, there was something that bothered me about the Papal visit, and it was this: the Pope seems to be treating the world as though Christendom was still an active reality.

He spoke as though this were a nation which, like the children of Israel, had followed God and then stepped away. I just can’t accept that as a accurate assesment of the state of affairs, not because we are a holy society, but because we arent a chosen nation. He spoke of the renewal of the church (much needed) and of Christian society…  but is this really Christian society?

When you consider the ‘conversion’ of these islands, I dont think that there was ever really a point when the rulers were working for God rather than their own interests – and I’m sorry to say that in one way or another the Church was often complicit in this self interested monopoly of power.

In speaking in this strongly Christendom based way of course, he built a barrier up between the secularists – of whom there are of course many, and the religious lobby, of whom there are a similar number of vocal proponents. This to me was not sensible. Yes we have an established church here, but the reality is that although Bishops sit in the house of Lords, on the whole the wider ‘church’ does not hold a lot of earthly power. In my opinion that is not necessarily a bad thing. When we have power we tend to go bad, we’re better off as an irritant outside the circle of power, reminding rulers and leaders of the responsibilities they bear. Its kind of like saying that instead of crucifying Jesus and oppressing his disciples what the governments of the relevant states should have done was made them cabinet ministers. I think even Nick Clegg has realised that doesnt work.

The rule of this country is based upon secular law, undergirded at one time perhaps by religious principles, but now very much all about a capitalist social democratic philosophy.

Although you might think so when listening to some people speak, capitalist social democracy is not equivalent to Christianity.

The Vatican, who must surely be aware of the relatively dire straits of his church in the UK, surely saw this as an opportunity to try and get some more british bums on seats. For after all, the whole strength, identity and purpose of the very Vatican state is based upon its worldwide diaspora of Catholics. In order to reassert this, in order to re-invigorate their catchment, the organisers of the Papal visit thought it best to push the Christendom thing, but couch it in such a way that the Pope, who after all has had a lot of mud slung at him recently, was effectively rehabilitated in the eyes of the British people. Ok that’s a gross oversimplification (moi?) – but I think it holds some element of truth.

As I say, I have no axe to grind here, I am not anti Catholic at all, indeed I find myself reflecting on Bonhoeffer’s words that when viewed in the context of the wider church Protestantism (even more so evangelicalism) seems like a tiny sect. The richness of the traditions which come from the Catholic and Orthodox world have huge amounts to teach and offer all of us, we neglect them at our peril.

So I’m not anti Pope, (although I find his accent rather hilarious), but I dont think that his deeply Christendom based language is useful. His visit was a success in PR terms for a beset Vatican regime, but the idea that a spiritual leader can address a nation in this way belongs to a different way of thinking.

Come the revolution… we’ll all be on our bikes.

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The Democrat candidate for South Carolina

Alvin GreeneThe Democrat candidate for South Carolina is Alvin Greene, an extraordinary character, even for a US State which has a history of extraordinary characters.

I heard Greene interviewed on the radio recently – he claimed that people would vote for him because he would bring an end to the global recession… single handedly apparently.

It seems that Democrats are so shy of the South Carolina voters that Alvin Greene, an unemployed army veteran who currently faces an obscenity charge, was able to win the open primary with apparent ease. He won sixty per cent of the vote.

There have been accusations that Greene is a Republican plant – however I must say that he didnt sound like a plant – more like a plank.

Greene has said that he raised the $10,000 + fees to run by saving up his army pay, others have suggested that he was given the money to run by ‘people who should be investigated.’

You can see the calibre of this political animal on video here at the foot of this huffington post article, if it wasnt such a sad story, it would be funny.

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life in contrast

By way of change I have been doing some painting today, not oils and acrylics – emulsion. Yeah, I’ve been a decorator for the day, which has made an interesting change. Anyway, as I rollered a wall with Magnolia I was struck by something which is simple but somehow profound.

When the magnolia went over one colour, it looked very dark, but then when it went over another (darker) colour, it suddenly seemed very light.

The paint was the same, but the effect was very different, and the reason for that is contrast. When the paint is contrasted with a light colour it seems quite different to when its contrasted with a dark one, how true of issues in my life and the world generally.

An issue which can seems extremely important/significant/heavy in one context, seems much less so in another – its all to do with what we’re contrasting things with.

I know its obvious, but that paint was impossible to see as anything but dark when painted over a light colour, just as certain things are impossible to see as anything but extremely important until the context changes.

Which means that we must all learn to have more grace with those who are looking at a different coloured wall to us, and seeing the same paint in a different way.

And yes, I am talking to myself more than anyone else.

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Trouble down under – what went wrong with Rudd?

Interesting to hear in the news about the appointment of Australia’s first female Prime Minister, but I must admit that I had been woefully unaware of the immense slump of popularity suffered by the hitherto golden boy of Aussie politics, Kevin Rudd.

Rudd swept to power on a wave of popularity, and seemed to be doing all the right things, particularly with his historic apology to the Aboriginal peoples.

My early criticisms of him and Pete Garrett with regard to their unwillingness to stand up to Whalers seemed to have been misplaced as Australia are now one of the leading voices in the anti-Whaling movement.

But scarcely had his feet touched the ground, and he is gone, booted out by a disgruntled parliamentary party.

The question is why…

It seems complicated and convuluted, and seems likely to come down to a whole range of back-tracking and apparent weak decision making, but one of the key points which will be raised is his U-turn on a flagship policy which would have seen Australia take the lead on a global level in the area of reducing carbon emissions.

But effectively it seems to me that he caved in to pressure, pressure from the public who wanted the policy but weren’t prepared to pay for it, and pressure from business which didnt like his interventionist approach. Pressure also came from without – as various other countries dithered and did nothing much about reducing their own emissions, how could Australia afford to spend so much money on something nobody else was willing to do? And as Rudd wavered, I now realise, his popularity slumped.

In the end I think this may go down in history as a major opportunity missed, another example of the failure of democratic decision making, and a triumph of capitalism over common sense.

A shame, Australia out of all of the developed nations should have been in a good position to take a lead on environmental politics. Hey ho.

Good bye Kevin Rudd, hello Julia Gillard.

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Is our only hope voter apathy?

Keith at ‘Pinch’ makes a well thought out set of arguments about why he will not be voting, saying the system is:

1. Unjust.
2. Creates political apathy
3. Creates losers.
4. Disenfranchises the majority.
5. Allows people to abdicate responsibility for the decision made in their communities.
6. Selects people to fund and organise violence against me and people in distant countries.

check it out – if it’s not already too late…

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A plea for the Christian non vote – why you could choose not to vote this week

Who should I vote for? Who should Christians vote for?Are any of the parties any good?

With the general election looming closer and closer, and the prospect of some significant change at Westminster, there is a lot of talk around about who to vote for. In this post, I want to advocate the non vote.

In Christian circles I hear lots of people saying they want to vote for the candidate or party who best represent what they regard as ‘Christian principles’ in an attempt to reclaim a ‘Christian focus at the heart of government’.

But in my opinion this notion of Christianity at the heart of democratic politics makes no real sense. This is not easy for me to say, my background is one of committed democratic socialism, redistribution and so on. But in recent times I’ve come to see democracy as a fraud, and the underlying policies of military and economic aggression as profoundly anti-christian.

To tackle democracy as a concept first, I think its easiest to explain it thus: we dont accept dictatorship – the rule of one individual, nor yet oligarchy, the rule of the elite, instead we call for democracy – the rule of the people, which in our case we administer by means of a majority vote. This means on a small scale that if ten people vote, and six of them choose one way, and four another, then the four who are overruled have to give in to the six. The greater the numbers, the more people who have to submit to the majority opinion. I dont see this as much better than rule by an elite to be honest, hypothetically if those six people are weak minded or easily impressed, and the four saw through the spin, why should they submit to being ruled by the majority decision?

My other discomfort with democracy is that I feel its a veneer, as Douglas Adams (I think) described it – it’s there to make you think somebody is in control. What he meant is that it gives us an illusion of power, wheras in reality the power in our country is exerted by economic forces. Yes the governments can tinker with things which are relatively important, but they must work within a closely defined set of parameters.

Governments dont really have the power to go against the economic power houses which have become totally entrenched in society. Its these same economic powers, institutions and corporations which are often richer than many governments, which maintain the levels of global inequality through the delights of the capitalist system.

Voting then gives us an illusion of control over a system which at its core is not controllable by one government, unless its some kind of militaristic dictatorship (not a good option).

So to vote then is to legitimise the system, and to allow it to function in your name. The non vote is a vote against the sham of democracy. I apologise to those who feel democracy is hard won, whether by suffragettes or soldiers, sadly I dont think that their great sacrifice means that we should legitimise this flawed system.

On the other point, that of the party policies. There are no parties which are against the killing of others under certain circumstances. I recognise that I am very much in a minority as a pacifist, but in my opinion to vote is to legitimise the kind of wars which are waged around the globe, and that means to have blood on ones hands.

I have no interest in having blood on my hands, I dont think its loving to go to war, and I dont want to support any government that will do so.

My final point is on this idea of a ‘Christian society’. I think this is a false utopia. The church shoud not be at the centre, but at the margins, not being the establishment voice but the outsider voice. Yes we should be working to help the poor and dispossessed, but our voice is not strengthened by wealth, power and privelige. I dont think we should be trying to recreate a ‘golden age’ (if one ever existed) Christian society, but instead re-finding our place among the poor and outcast, the refugee and outsider, and making our home there.

So that’s a long way of saying that I wont be voting on Thursday, I may go and spoil my ballot, but I may not even do that, for that in its way is to legitimise the system. I dont expect more than about one or two readers of this blog to agree with me, but in case you are wondering who to vote for this week, I urge you to consider not voting at all.

By the way, apologies for the lack of posts recently, I have one wrist in plaster, which is making typing very hard indeed.  Ho hum.

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