17 June, 2007

They have a word for it

There are some foreign words that should be used more in English, because they can express concepts with a conciseness only renderable in English with great cumbersomeness. I will now introduce you to two... pay attention, as I will be using them again without explanation.

1. Autogolpe
This is a Spanish word that in literal translation means "self coup". It's what you get when the existing government of a country decides they do not like the consitution, so they just tear it up and shoot or throw in jail anyone who kicks up about it. I first heard the word in connnection with Peru, where President Alberto Fujimori in 1992 decided that he did not like the powers the constitution gave to the country's parliament, so he just annulled the constitution and wrote a new one, consisting of one article: "1. Whatever President Fujimori says goes". Another celebrated autogolpe was when in 1993 Russia's President Yeltsin got fed up with his country's parliament voting against his proposed laws, so he sent in tanks to kill them. Wikipedia helpfully explains that Chancellor Palpatine's elevation of himself to the Imperial throne also constitutes an auogolpe.

2. Mukhabarat
I first came across this word in a Robert Fisk book, where he referred to the Syrian intelligence service as the Mukhabarat, making me think that this was its actual name (in the same way that the East German state security agency was the Stasi, South Africa's BOSS, Israel's MOSSAD and Shin Bet, etc.). It turns out that mukhabarat is just an Arab word for intelligence, in that "military intelligence" kind of way; some of the Syrian state security agencies do indeed have the word in their name, but none of them is THE Mukhabarat, at least not in that sense. The thing I have come to realise since then, though, is that mukhabarat is a very useful and handily snappy general umbrella term for the state security agencies of a country. That is how it is used with Arab states, anyway, but I think it could do with being applied more generally. So, in talking about the UK, we might refer to MI5, MI6, the Special Branch, GCHQ, and certain other shady agencies collectively as being Britain's mukhabarat. I suppose ECHELON might be a kind of globalised mukhabarat for the free world.

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