Violent Gangs, Mafias and Private Militias

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One of the preconditions for democracy is that the executive power - i.e. the Government and the police - has a monopoly on violence in society. If groupings other than the state authorities can legally use violence against the people, freedom for all ceases to exist.

In Denmark, one of the places this is expressed is in the Constitution, where a paragraph states: "associations that act violently or seek to achieve their goals through violence, incitement to violence or similar punishable influence on dissenters, shall be dissolved by court judgement." This means a group or an association can be reported for the use of violence or incitement to violence, and then the courts have to decide whether the group should be banned and dissolved.

Violent groups

In Russia, Eastern Europe, the USA and Italy, mafias play a big role and, while Italian democracy may just seem absurd, Russian democracy is bordering on the non-existent. Organized crime across national borders now constitutes a real threat to democracy everywhere in the world.

In both the USA and Europe, the Hells Angels and other motorcycle gangs have been responsible for extensive drug trafficking and violent extortion of various kinds for years. Nowadays, there are also other types of gangs involved in the same forms of criminality. Now and then, the different gangs are literally at war with each other over control of the various markets for drugs.

In Lebanon, which is one of the few democracies in the Middle East, the Shiite Hezbollah militia represents a permanent threat, not just against democracy and against neighbouring Israel, but against all the minorities in Lebanon which are not Shia Muslims.

In many other regions in the world, such as Latin and Central America, private militias and armed groups are a major threat to rule of law and to democracy.

The Muslim political association Hizb ut-Tahir is banned in several European countries. It is not banned in Denmark, where it has called for the killing of Jews. This brings the association technically in conflict with the Danish constitution, but for fear of making things worse and risking that the association goes underground, the authorities have been reluctant to initiate a case against it.

It goes both ways

What came first, violent groups or non-functional democracy, can vary from country to country, but if society permits groups other than the elected, executive branch to exercise power through violence, a power vacuum arises and someone will take advantage of it. If groups other than the state are permitted to use violence, the rule of law is undermined and democracy perishes.

Next chapter: Corruption