A Review of “The Mafia and Terrorism: Identifying and Analyzing a Negative Relationship between the Mafia and Terrorist Attacks in the Italian State” by Danielle Marion French

Reviewed by Associate Editor Emily Eget 

French’s “The Mafia and Terrorism: Identifying and Analyzing a Negative Relationship between the Mafia and Terrorist Attacks in the Italian State” explores the interaction between organized crime and terrorist groups, hypothesizing that networks like the mafia have a negative relationship with terrorists. This hypothesis is in contrast to what French assumes is the consensus among the Italian government, which combats terrorism with the same units that tackle organized crime. French chooses Italy as the paper’s case study, with Italy’s unique position having an extensive history of organized crime and their lack of terrorist attacks in comparison to other European countries.

In the Literature Review, French states that the first possible avenue to study the relationship between organized crime and terrorism is their amalgamation: how each are gradually becoming more like one another. However, according to French, the second avenue is most relevant to the project’s mode of study: regarding the relationship as interaction between distinct groups. This interaction can be positive (as in the case of alliances, most commonly through drug and weapons trading), negative (competition from differing objectives and intrusion of terrorists on pre-existing illegal infrastructures), or neutral (negatives and positives balance out).

French conducted her research using units of groups rather than individuals, with a focus on the Sicilian, Campanian, and Calabrian Mafias. French adopts both qualitative and quantitative analysis to evaluate the relationship between the mafia and terrorists. In her qualitative analysis, French uses document analysis and direct observation to gain insight into mafia attitudes, statements of mafia leaders, and the mafia entanglement within the state and among citizens. French discusses the theoretical approach with predicted factors for a negative relationship: the mafia hierarchical structure, mafia self-sufficiency/inner-group loyalty making it unnecessary to incorporate terrorists, the mafia’s nationalist tendencies, and the mafia’s reliance on the state terrorists aim to destroy.

For French’s quantitative analysis, she uses the number of terrorist attacks in a region-year raw count as the dependent variable and a proxy measurement of mafia presence as the independent variable, over the time period 2001-2015. French used population and GDP per capita as controls, as highly populated and urban areas are more prone to terrorism. French acknowledges the shortcomings of this research, as the chosen proxy of confiscated mafia goods is imperfect. Some regions could simply have better confiscation measures in place, while others may lack confiscated goods because the mafia is deeply entrenched in the state overseeing such task forces. French’s research amounted in a significant P value for a negative coefficient with mafia presence, a significant P value for a positive coefficient with population growth, and an insignificant P value for a positive coefficient with GDPpc. This result aligns with French’s original hypothesis: a greater mafia presence is associated with less terrorist attacks.

French’s research aspires to influence counter-terrorism policy and advocates separating enforcement efforts from those dealing with organized crime. French emphasizes that the government currently believes in a positive relationship between organized crime and terrorist activity, and their efforts to curb organized crime to curb terrorism may be counterproductive. However, French does recognize the limits of her research in the overall picture of counterterrorism. Italy only only serves as a very specific case study, and her research only focused on terrorism defined as attacks.

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