The Difference Between Terrorism and Organized Crime
by Frank Hamilton

Terrorism and organized crime have both been important in the real world which has made them a common feature of various literary genres, especially thriller and mystery novels. But the two are not the same and knowing the difference between terrorism and organized crime is crucial to use the two effectively in your work.

What Is Terrorism?
To put it simply, terrorism is the intentional use of violence for pursuing political and/or religious goals. Most of the time, the word is used to refer to the violent acts committed during peacetime or aimed at civilians. The word itself dates back to the French Revolution of the late 18th – early 19th century when the “Reign of Terror” began under the Jacobin regime of Maximilien Robespierre.

But when terrorism really gained prominence was the 1970s. At the time, the conflicts in Palestine, the Basque Country, and Northern Ireland got a lot of attention. In the 1980s, suicide attacks became more widespread, and in 2001, the September 11 attacks in the United States solidified the use of the term and resulted in the Global War on Terrorism. Yet, there is still no universally agreed-upon definition of terrorism.

As Victor Young from the custom writing reviews site Online Writers Rating notes, “Terrorism is an emotionally charged term which means using it will already imply that some kind of moral wrong has been done. Those using the word usually mean to denounce or condemn the actions of the terrorists. In most countries, terrorism is illegal, but there is still no consensus about whether or not it should be considered a war crime.”

What Is Organized Crime?
The term organized crime is a broad one and is usually used to refer to international, national, and local groups run by criminals that engage in various illegal activities for profit. Members of organized crime groups can also force people to do business with them (e.g. take money from small business owners in return for “protection”) but these people may still be considered victims rather than partners in crime depending on the situation.

Crime has existed for as long as humans have, but the degrees to which it has been organized have varied significantly. Gangs can sometimes be considered a part of organized crime, while most criminal organizations are referred to as mobs, mafia, syndicates, etc. Some notable examples of organized crime include the Sicilian mafia, the Russian mafia, the Japanese yakuza, the Chinese triads, and the Hong Kong mafia.

How Do Terrorism and Organized Crime Interact?
In some instances, terrorist groups can be considered a form of organized crime. This happens when criminal organizations become politically or religiously motivated in their actions. Organized criminal groups and terrorists can establish partnerships and alliances and work together to pursue their own goals. But there are more similarities between terrorism and organized crime than one might expect initially:

  • Structure and Organization: The “cell structure” has been adopted both by organized criminal groups and by terrorist groups. This structure allows the cells to have relative autonomy and continue working even when one or more of the cells have been exposed.
  • Tactics and Strategies: Because of the kinds of operations criminal groups and terrorists are involved in, both usually need to get fake or illegally obtained documentation. At the same time, both prefer establishing connections with corrupt officials for profit.
  • IT and Communication: The Dark Web is often used by criminal organizations and terrorists alike to avoid leaving an electronic footprint. However, both usually require the help of experts to perform complicated tasks of such kind.
  • Territorial Ambitions: Organized crime and terrorism depend on the control of certain territories which is why conflicts and/or alliances can result from the struggle between the two.
  • Financial Resources: One particular area where organized crime and terrorism converge is narcoterrorism. It is still very widespread in certain countries and has remained a major issue for decades.

Final Thoughts
To sum up, terrorism and organized crime have definitely been very separate from each other but have been converging to an extent in recent years. Using either of the two in your work will help you tell a more compelling story and build your fictional world authentically, but only if you understand the differences between terrorism and organized crime.

Frank Hamilton is a blogger and translator from Manchester, England. He is a professional writing expert in such topics as blogging, digital marketing and self-education. He also loves traveling and speaks Spanish, French, German and English.