The Mafia and al-Qaeda: Violent and Secretive Organizations in Comparative and Historical Perspective



In the immediate aftermath of September 11, we circulated an essay outlining possible comparisons between the 1980s and 1990s repression of organized crime in Italy and Sicily and the pending repression of the al-Qaeda network. Distributed in several countries, and as a contribution to the Anthropological Quarterly's reflections on September 11, the essay elicited critical and provocative commentary. Respondents questioned, in particular, our neglect of abuses of civil liberties in the antimafia process, our implied conflation of racketeering with religious extremism, and our positive assessment of the role of citizens' social movements in delegitimating terrorist violence. In this article, we address these and related criticisms, in part through expanding and clarifying the original argument. Our premise at the time, that the rhetoric (and pursuit) of a "war" on terrorism distorts what should be framed as a repressive action against a cellular and networked, violent and secretive organization, is reinforced. [Keywords: criminal networks, mafia, social movements, Cold War, revenge]