Mo Ansar, the bogus Muslim ‘theologian’ who defends slavery and says Muslims discovered America in AD1000… while claiming benefits and appearing on the BBC

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  • ‘Community activist’ Mo Ansar is a regular guest on the BBC who presents himself as the face of moderate Islam
  • Yet Ansar is a fantasist and Walter Mitty character who supports slavery and has promoted extremist organisations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir on social media
  • Claims he is an ‘educationalist’, ‘theologian’, ‘lawyer’ and ‘visiting lecturer’ but has no qualifications and has never worked at a school, university or law firm
  • The self-styled ‘expert commentator’ is also under fire for undeclared income from media appearances while costing taxpayers a fortune in unnecessary police protection, benefits and a spurious employment tribunal appeal

Mohammed Ansar, a regular fixture on the BBC’s news and current affairs programming, was engulfed in scandal this week with allegations that he has “sexed up” his CV in order to promote hard-line Islamist propaganda in the media, while presenting himself to producers, researchers and the public as the face of moderate Islam.

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Amy Winehouse: why are we mourning this loathsome old drunk?

Originally posted at Blottr. Read it there.

As of yesterday, we know that Amy Winehouse died from alcohol poisoning. Astonishingly, it seems to have been the only substance present in large enough quantities in her bloodstream to finish her off. Robert Le Fevre, celebrity addiction specialist, took to the airwaves late last night to dissuade us from remembering Amy Winehouse for her troubled end, praising instead “that voice… what a voice”. But he is wrong.

It’s important first to put Winehouse’s talent into perspective. She was a gifted vocalist, yes, but an interpreter of the human condition on the level of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday or Nina Simone she was not. For one thing, she didn’t have enough common ground with normal human psychology. She then squandered what gifts she had by embarking on a selfish and reckless lifestyle, condemning herself and her intimates to a toxic downward spiral of dependence and misery from which she eventually found herself incapable of escaping.

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The rise of internet pornography is distressing, but a ‘filter’ isn’t the solution

This post originally appeared at The Catholic Herald.

The production and proliferation of internet pornography is increasing at an unprecedented rate. The internet has changed the mechanisms of content distribution more fundamentally – and, in the case of pornography and pirated content, more worryingly – than any other technology in history.

More troubling still is the toxic relationship consumers of pornography seem to be developing with this material, thanks to the enormous volume of it available on demand. Researchers like Gail Dines are only just scratching the surface of how destructive that relationship can be, with men in particular experiencing an inexorable pull into ever-more extreme forms of smut.

Indeed, as my friend Damian Thompson chronicles in his upcoming book on addiction, The Fix, changes in consumption habits among porn enthusiasts bear a remarkable similarity to more traditional forms of addiction: the acceleration of desire, the need for an ever-greater “hit” and the growth of ritualised and self-destructive behaviour are among the characteristics of the porn addict. And the number of people addicted to pornography is growing. Fast.

That this is a problem in need of an urgent solution is not in debate. But the Government’s answer – to insist that internet service providers apply a filter to their users’ connections – isn’t just technologically unworkable, it’s also bad for the economy and morally questionable.

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Review: Paul Carr, The Upgrade: A Cautionary Tale of Life Without Reservations

In some circles it’s considered bad form to review books in which you appear. Fortunately for you, I don’t move in those circles. Because as one of this volume’s (admittedly minor) characters, I’m better placed than most to verify what might otherwise appear a wildly implausible series of ludicrous drunken adventures.

The Icelandic rock stars. The near-death experience with Spanish drug dealers. The hairdressers’ convention. The 6,000 mile booty call. In short: yes, it’s all true.

Paul Carr has forged a surprisingly stable career out of his alcohol-fuelled antics, failed relationships, friendship with infamous London entrepreneur, networker and mischief-maker Robert Loch and his opinions about the latest internet technology. But despite weighing in provocatively on privacy, copyright and media issues in his TechCrunch column, his forte has always been writing about himself, which is the singular subject of both of his books to date. Even more surprisingly, he manages to be fresh and entertaining without slipping into limp Hunter S. Thompson burlesque.

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Oprah: America’s most powerful religious leader

This review originally appeared in The Catholic Herald.

Oprah: Gospel of an Icon
By Kathryn Lofton
University of California Press, £15.95

Kathryn Lofton is an assistant professor of American Studies and Religious Studies at Yale and her first book represents a perfect fusion of those two disciplines. The American talk show host Oprah Winfrey, she says, provides a brilliant and telling picture of what religion looks like in 21st century America. Her thesis is simple: Oprah has become a cultural phenomenon because she has fused religious idiom, consumerism and celebrity obsession to forge a terrifyingly potent global brand, one that is as much a religion as it is a corporate entity.

Yes, it’s the sort of thesis that has you reaching for your pistol. And yes, in places the book’s language recalls the worst excesses of pop culture studies. More than once, it reminded me of Slayage, the hilarious – and apparently peer-reviewed – “journal of Buffology” (that’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer Studies to you and me).

But here’s the thing: it’s actually really difficult to know what, in 50 or 100 years, will be considered culturally significant. The history books are full of artists we now consider geniuses who were shunned, ignored or ridiculed in their own time – or not even recognised as artists at all. So we ought to try to judge books like this on their own terms.

Who’s to say whether Oprah will acquire an added resonance due to some future event we can’t yet know? She’s certainly widely admired for the media empire she has erected around herself. And isn’t there something odd about the rabidness of her fans? Something more akin to an evangelical preacher’s flock than a daytime chat show host’s audience? So perhaps we shouldn’t be too quick to mock this new bit of, dare I say it, scholarship about one of America’s greatest cultural figures.

Of course, if Lofton is right – if Oprah and the products of her empire “offer a description of religion in modern society” – we have cause for serious concern. Surely what drives the hysterical suburban moms wild about Oprah is greed, enabled by lack of intelligence and spiritual integrity.

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