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Messages - Rohit

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But, of course, korine!

When a defendant in a 1960s Mafia trial was asked if he belonged to the Mafia he responded, "I don't know what the word means". This criminal was not so much evading the question as confessing a real perplexity. Mafiosi never call themselves, or one another, mafiosi, but rather amici (friends) or uomini d'onore (men of honour). In the words of one noted mafiologue, the defendant above "knew individuals who are called mafiosi, not because they belong to a secret sect but rather because they behave in a particular fashion, that is in a Mafia-like fashion".

What does it mean to behave in a Mafia-like fashion? "It means to make oneself respected, to be a man of honour, capable of vindicating by force any offence against his enemy," writes Mafia expert, Pino Arlacchi. Honour and respect clearly have rather different meanings here than those that most people attach to them. A man is an 'uomo d'onore' when he acts according to the prevailing codes of courage, cleverness and ferocity, never hesitating to resort to violence and trickery to gain the upper hand. What gradually emerges from this portrait, however, is a sort of confusion between the Mafia as a "state of mind, a philosophy of life, a moral code, prevailing among all Sicilians", and organized criminal activity, delinquency and social deviance. In southern Italy, the border between the two is often unclear.

Two aspects of southern Italian culture in particular seem to have contributed to the birth and development of the Mafia as a criminal organization. The first is the generally positive value this culture has given to assertiveness, aggression and the ability to impose one's will on others. The meek, mild and naive may be saints in their afterlives, but in this life they are, quite simply, fools. The fundamental Neapolitan phrase, 'ca'nisciun e'fesso' ("I'm no fool") - with its implication "you won't get the best of me" - sums up the milieu of dominance and submission in which the southern Italian lives. A second, related aspect is the southern Italian attitude towards the state. Even today, the relationship of the southern Italian (and of many northern Italians as well) to the state is one of profound distrust. The state, its institution and laws, are not something in which one participates as a citizen but are rather things which challenge the citizen's independence, interfering with his family's sacred autonomy. This attitude towards the state may have its origins in the long succession of invading powers that ruled southern Italy over the centuries (Norman, French, Catalan, and so on.) And also in the distance that separated the mass of peasant-farmers (contadini) working on huge estates (latifondi) from their absentee landlords residing in Naples or Palermo. Certainly Unification did little to help matters in the south, transferring as it did the capital from Naples to Rome and replacing the Bourbon monarchy with the Turin-based House of Savoy. Whatever the case, the space of distrust between citizen and state is the space in which the Mafia has prospered.

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