Culture Wars/Current Controversies

What progressive extremism experts get wrong

BY The Unherd

An entire industry has been built on narcissism

In 2017, when Maajid Nawaz appeared on Bill Maher’s Real Time, he openly discussed his past membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group that calls for the restoration of the Islamic caliphate. Back then, he enjoyed some renown as a “counter-terrorism expert”. Today, he enjoys a different kind of renown as a purveyor of dangerous truths or falsehoods, depending on your perspective.

Nawaz’s story of radical self-transformation from extremist to counter-extremist is a classic tale of personal redemption. But it’s also an unmistakable product of our current moment: an age of extremism that demands not only that there must be extremists but, equally, that there must be a whole cadre of experts to monitor, evaluate and police them.

Whenever extremists do or say anything of note, experts are invariably called on to “unpack” it, duly appearing on TV, radio or a podcast to disseminate their expert-takes. Many of these “researchers” are contractually obliged to do these appearances by the organisations they work for, and it’s with some reluctance that they trudge off to the studio, racking their brains for something interesting to say. But quite a few clearly relish the opportunity, especially if it’s on TV, excitedly sending missives from the green room to mark the occasion. For the extremism expert, TV affords the chance to reach a wider audience; above all, it confers legitimacy on them.

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