Italy's war on the Mafia

Italy has taken an exemplary legislative step against the insidious proliferation of the Mafia. The question is whether the government will follow through effectively enough to ease the fear that now inhibits public cooperation in exposing this fountainhead of organized crime.

There is a burden on other nations not to undercut the process through tolerating the Mafia, conniving with its members (as in past alleged episodes involving United States intelligence), or adding to its spurious aura of family loyalties and courage that just happen to be outside the law (as in some American movies and TV shows). By seeing the quaintly misnamed ''honorable company'' for the dishonorable gang that it is, decent society can make progress against the ruthless ''law of silence'' imposed by the Mafia to cloak its crimes.

Now Italy, spurred by the murder of its leading anti-Mafia fighter, has for the first time made Mafia membership a crime in itself. It has given the authorities unprecedented powers to combat protection rackets, secret banking abuses, and other Mafia depredations.

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The need for a crackdown grows increasingly urgent as organized crime expands from the control of criminal turf in various lands and regions to corruption of politicians to arrogant efforts to manipulate national government. The Mafia in Sicily, its coffers swelling from the drug trade, is more and more the entrepreneur, infiltrating businesses where the public would never suspect it.

Let's have no more glamorizing of this unsavory brotherhood, no more official complicity with it. As the Mafia faces new resistance in its homeland, it should find itself nowhere at home.

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