Mexico’s Cartels Are More Depraved, Dangerous than ISIL

The horrific rampage of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has captured the world’s attention. Many Western commentators have insisted that ISIL’s crimes are unique, no longer practiced anywhere else in the civilized world. Worse still, they argue that the group’s barbaric practices are intrinsically Islamic, a product of the aggressive and archaic worldview which dominates the Muslim world.

The ignorance of these commentators is stunning. In fact, there are organizations whose depravity, scale, and threat to the United States far surpass that of ISIL. But these groups do not engender the kind of collective indignation and hysteria that ISIL provokes, begging the question: Are Americans truly concerned ISIL’s specific atrocities or the threat they supposedly pose? Or are they particularly disturbed because it is Muslims who are carrying out these actions, or posing this threat?

For example, even as U.S. media establishments and policymakers radically inflate the threat posed by ISIL to the Middle East and United States, most Americans appear to be unaware of the institutional magnitude of Mexican drug cartels, let alone the scale of their atrocities or the threat they pose to the U.S.:

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Comparing the Scale of Mexican Drug Cartels to ISIL

While ISIL is trying to achieve a state, the cartels already have one. They have infiltrated every level of the Mexican government: from law enforcement and the military, to the judiciary, political parties, and even private-sector enterprises such as the banks and media organizations. They act with virtual impunity, checked only by competition from other cartels.

ISIL shocked the world by netting an estimated $2 billion during their capture of Mosul in August. Additionally, the group generates more than $1 million per day from enterprises such as extortion, kidnapping, smuggling, and oil sales. This pales in comparison with the cartel economy. For example, the Sinaloa cartel alone generates more than $3 billion every yearmore than $8 million per day. Conservative estimates hold that, collectively, the Mexican cartels earn at least $6.6 billion annually, which translates into more than $18 million daily.

While ISIL has up to 31,000 fighters at its disposal, the cartels have more than 100,000 foot soldiers—more than three times the number of ISIL fighters, and roughly equivalent to the size of the actual Mexican army (many of whom also work for the cartels, with Los Zetas founded and led primarily by military and police defectors).