The true progressive

BY AMER ZAHR
The Progressive Pen
Published August 12, 2001

I name my column "The Progressive Pen." What exactly does that mean? Without utilizing any type of American dictionary, let me attempt to explain what it means to me.

Paul Wong
Amer Zahr

A progressive does not lean to the left or right. He or she is neither liberal nor conservative, not necessarily socialist, communist, capitalist or otherwise. When speaking of what truly makes one a progressive, we must abandon all politically identifying jargon. A progressive does not exist in a Western context or in an Eastern context or in a Democratic or Republican context. Progressiveness exists in only a human context. It goes hand in hand with the authentic make-up of the intellectual. It is a state of mind that sees no national or political allegiances, it is not nationalistic, nor is it against nationalism. The ethnicity or race of the subject of the work of the progressive is of no consequence. This is why we have almost no progressives in America. Since just about everything is racialized (especially in our two-party system), progressive activism becomes bankrupt when it refuses to also point the finger at those corrupt individuals who happen to come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In a democratic culture, progressiveness must be by definition a minority movement. If the majority of people in a society were progressives, what would they be active against? Their own fraudulent majority rule? In a dictatorship, progressiveness is usually, if not always, a majority movement, though many times quiet or silent. It is a movement that strives to speak some type of truth to power, precisely the reason those in power are usually vehemently opposed to it. It forces powerful individuals to uncover that which has made them powerful. In most cases, the success of progressive activism completely deconstructs existing power structures. Its success brings those who have power to center stage precisely when they wish to be behind closed doors.

Progressives "get it." They hear a story, educate themselves and become active because they "get it." "Getting it," however, is a rare occurrence in American society. We have few standout progressives who fall into this category people who see and criticize corruption without giving heed to who the corrupt is. Among them are people like Edward Said, Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky and Christopher Hitchens. Almost no politicians fall into this category and the closest facsimiles of progressiveness on Capitol Hill are people like David Bonior and Cynthia McKinney.

Progressives are targeted. They are a threat to most societies because they call for complete reexaminations of status quos. They call for power to be put in check. Recently, Christopher Hitchens published a book entitled "The Trial of Henry Kissinger," basically outlining a case for the prosecution in a war crimes trial against the former secretary of state. I can only imagine the amount of death threats he has received. We have some progressive institutions in our world, though many of them, like the UN for example, have fallen prey to power, basically becoming a mouthpiece for the foreign policy of the United States. Another such institution would be the UN war crimes tribunal that is currently hearing the case of Slobodon Milosevic. This is of course an important first step, but the true test of the court will be if it also prosecutes others who have committed similar acts, even if they come from the powerful elite, i.e. the Western world. The progressiveness of the court may very well be tested in the coming years as leaders like Henry Kissinger, Ariel Sharon and others are now being pursued, if only preliminarily, by individual prosecutors.

Finally progressiveness is not, as it is most times seen, an extremist movement. It is, rather, extremely moderate. Many times what it calls for may seem extreme, however, since it seeks to de-corrupt power, to re-institute true democracy and to prevent suffering no matter what clothes the victim wears.

This is Amer Zahr"s last column for the summer. He can be reached via e-mail at zahrag@umich.edu.