What does the term mafia mean

The term mafia is closely linked to the phenomenon of (organized crime) and is often used synonymously. In a narrower sense, the term Mafia stands for a criminal organization that originated in Sicily. The emergence of the Mafia is inextricably linked with the social and political developments in Sicily. Due to the unstable state and foreign rule, it was mainly the feudal lords who had power over the island since the Middle Ages. In the 19th century the big landowners took control of Sicily. To protect the interests of the de facto rulers, they deployed armed guards, for example to fight rebellious peasants or bandits. Early on, the so-called field guards used their power to blackmail farmers in order to generate financial income. The decisive development of the Mafia came with the unification of Italy in 1860. In this context, the Italian central government did not succeed in installing state control in Sicily. The big tenants and especially the private protection troops gained much more influence. This extended to all social power factors in Sicily (church, administration, press). As part of this development, the former field guards increasingly formed the Mafia organization, as it is at the present time.
A clear derivation of the term mafia is not possible in this context. So there are different approaches. The historical derivation refers to long-term foreign rule by the Bourbon dynasty. In this context, nationally oriented groups in southern Italy developed the motto: "Morte alla Francia, Italia anela!" (MaFIa / "France death, Italy gasps!"). There are also a variety of linguistic reasons. For example, the word mafia in the Sicilian dialect means boldness or boasting and is probably derived from the Arabic word mahyah, which has the same meaning. The criminal attachment of the word could have occurred in the course of a play from 1863 in which the term mafiusi was used for a group of prisoners whose behavior and structure showed close parallels to the private protection forces. In this time sequence, the term was also increasingly used by public authorities to describe the criminal organization in Sicily. The term Mafia was not used by the members of this group. They called themselves "Cosa Nostra", which translated means "Our cause". This term was also taken up socially, so that up to the present time both terms are possible to describe Sicilian organized crime.
The mafia is one of the most influential groups in international organized crime from both a historical and a current perspective. The organization is active in all relevant areas of organized crime. In particular (drug-related crime), extortion and (white-collar crime) lead to illegal profits of several billion US dollars each year.
The mafia is structured in the form of families who control areas that are firmly divided according to the territorial principle. The structure of families is strictly hierarchical. At the top is the capo (head, boss), who is supported by a vice-capo (vice boss) and various consigliere (advisors). At the lowest level of the hierarchy are the Soldato / Soldati (soldiers), who are led by a Capodecina (boss of ten). The mafia is characterized by strict admission rituals to the uomo dónore (man of honor), the duty of confidentiality (Ómerta) and the consistent action against traitors in their own ranks and against state opponents. In 1992, for example, members of the Mafia killed the famous anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, although this led to a considerable outcry within the Italian population and in the meantime to a tough fight against the Mafia.
Due to the code, the mafia also became a symbol of organized crime, which was mainly picked up and shaped by the media. But the international expansion, which the Mafia already pursued in the USA at the beginning of the 20th century, is also considered a classic feature of organized crime. In this overall context, the term mafia was socially equated with the term organized crime. Formulations such as the Russian Mafia, Vietnamese Mafia and drug mafia were increasingly used in the media to portray various phenomena of organized crime. In this respect, the terms have already been equated in society. From a scientific point of view, however, a differentiation is necessary.
- DICKIE, J. 2006: Cosa Nostra - The History of the Mafia, Frankfurt / M .;
- THAMM, B. G. / FREIBERG, K. 1998: Mafia global, Hilden / Rhld.
Protection racket, Ómerta, violence, Cosa Nostra

Oliver Bossert