For me and my prison friends, Egypt is personal

Maajid Nawaz, co-founder and executive director of Quilliam.

I’ve been dragged through the dungeons of Egypt’s underground state security headquarters myself. The infamous al-Gihaz sits in the middle of Cairo and inspires fear in all who walk past. Anyone taken into al-Gihaz is immediately blindfolded, numbered and then has to listen as colleagues are tortured, one by one, in chronological order. My number was 42. The detainee is stripped, and then electricity is applied to the teeth, genitalia and other sensitive areas.

During my time there, wives were tortured to force husbands to confess, and children as young as 15 to force parents to confess.

Every revolt requires agitators. Using social networking as well as “resistance tactics”, the April 6 Youth movement has galvanised the young into action.

Why did the US support the thuggish regime of Mubarek?

It is not a police state because the FBI raided activist homes

There have been no arrests as yet, after the FBI raided multiple homes of antiwar organizers. Activists have called it a massive fishing expedition, and that’s probably what it is. However, this is not an indication that the US is now a police state. It’s just not. I can understand why people are alarmed, but here’s my take.

A police state is when they kick down the door at 4 am and take you away. A police state is when blogging about it being a police state means you get tortured. That is a police state. The US is nowhere near that. Plus, I came of age in the 60’s. The FBI was doing raids like this back then too. It hasn’t changed. Or gotten worse.

Major antiwar activists in the 60’s who did FOIA requests years later were stunned to learn how much they were monitored. They knew the FBI was watching, they didn’t know just how much. During the 1950’s, as it turned out, there were Communist Party meetings where half the attendees were FBI agents or informers who didn’t know about the existence of the others. (And it certainly seems reasonable to believe that current day Marxist parties have their share of informants too.)

Do we need to be careful? Absolutely. But that’s always been true for activists and organizers.

Clarification: I mean this post in the sense of, let’s keep some perspective and not get paranoid. Because then we lose effectiveness. A decades-long member of the National Lawyer’s Guild mentioned to me once, in times like these, we need to be smart, careful, and not do dumb stuff because we got paranoid / angry / etc. Because that’s precisely what they want.