James Denselow

James Denselow is a writer on Middle East politics and security issues.


James writes regularly for The Guardian and has written articles for Middle East International, The Huffington Post The New Statesman, Syria Today, The World Today, The Daily Telegraph and The Yorkshire Post. He has been cited in many international publications including The Boston Globe, Voice of America, The Sunday Telegraph, Reuters and AFP

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James writes book, television and film reviews for International Affairs, Middle East International, The Arab and The Guardian

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See James's published work

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In The Media

James in the media - Watch James discussing Middle East issues on a variety of media platforms including the BBC, Al Jazeera and Russia Today
Blowback in Syria: Damascus's terrorist past may help define its future PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Monday, 11 June 2012 08:41

By James Denselow

London, Asharq Al-Awsat - The month of May saw a double suicide attack in Damascus that brought a country increasingly defined by an atmosphere of Civil War to the top of the news as a victim of terrorism. The attack was eerily similar to the ones that have blighted Iraq over the past ten years. The first bomber’s vehicle attempted to breach the walls of a Syrian military intelligence building while the second vehicle exploded a few minutes later decimating the crowd that had gathered killing 55 and wounding hundreds more. Syria's state-run news agency was quick to publish gruesome pictures of the victims of the attack which President Bashar al-Assad's regime pinned on "foreign-backed terrorist groups."

The standard questions speculating who was behind the bombings followed with Al-Qaeda and its latest offshoot Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) coming out as the prime suspect, a view confirmed by the United Nations and the United States. The fact that the regime in Damascus has wanted to define the conflict as one between the government and terrorists since its inception in March 2011 has led the opposition to quite legitimately challenge this Al Qaeda narrative. As Stephen Starr, author of “Revolt: Eyewitness to the Syrian Uprising”, explained to Asharq Al-Awsat; “we have always had to second guess the regime when it talks about terrorism in Syria; because of the broader propaganda we regularly can't believe their claims. With this is mind, I don't think we can be sure terrorists are actually responsible for the recent bombings in Damascus, despite apparent claims of such. It is all too hazy to declare anything with certainty”.


Last Updated on Monday, 11 June 2012 08:43
Sectarianism in Iraq – Antagonistic Visions of Unity PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Friday, 08 June 2012 10:26

(Fanar Haddad, Hurst, London 2011)

Sectarianism in Iraq is a timely examination of a under-researched and controversial topic that continues to play a central role in shaping the future of the country.

The book’s stated aim is to provide the first concerted attempt to analyse the nature of sectarian relations and identities in Iraq. It focuses on how sectarian identities are negotiated on a societal level and addresses the vacuum in study on a topic that Haddad describes as being viewed as an odious “taboo” or reduced to oversimplified notions such as all Shi’a were against Saddam and all Sunnis were for him. Paradoxically avoiding debate on the topic has allowed it to become far more dangerous, as Saleem Muttar argues an “overemphasising a unifying Iraqi identity at the expense of understanding sectarian differences has had a detrimental effect on social cohesion”.

Last Updated on Friday, 08 June 2012 10:30
General Odierno, US Army Chief of Staff, on Syria PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Wednesday, 06 June 2012 12:54

I asked a question on Syria to General Odierno at Chatham House today (6.6.12):

On a practical level, what military resources would you say are needed to prevent the Syrian government targeting its own people?

Here is Odierno's paraphrased response.

"We need to focus on how do we solve this crisis without making it worse. Syria has much more capability than Libya, therefore we have to be very careful when considering intervention. I'm interested in the conflict prevention idea and what the impact will be on neighboring countries, I'm especially interested to see what the neighbors can do. It is a very complex problem and the issue will run and run. Important question to be answered about who the opposition are. This is one of the many factors that have to be resolved before political decisions are made going forward".

Syria & the Climate Change Approach PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Wednesday, 30 May 2012 15:18

The international community knows that the situation is bad and getting worse but lacks the unity and political capital to do anything about it

(Huffington Post) When will we arrive at a tipping point in Syria? This is the frequently asked question that followed the early momentum of the uprising in 2011, the bloody siege of Baba Amr in March, the double suicide bombing in Damascus and the bloody massacre of children and civilians in Hula in May.

Despite the lack of access for international media the outside world cannot claim to be ignorant of what is happening in the country. True the details are murky and there remain huge questions of whom/what the Shabiha are and the extent of Al Qaeda penetration, but more or less the daily toll of bloodshed is known both in figures and horrific stories. Behind the main headlines I’ve seen videos of people buried alive by men in army uniforms, heard stories of skinned bodies being returned to terrified relatives and attended events where various members of the opposition talk of the desperate plight that sections of the Syrian population are enduring.

Despite a brief lull when the Annan plan was launched the violence has steadily increased and the notion that the cease fire is holding is a tragic testimony to international impotence towards the conflict. Like climate change the vast majority of the global population know that what is going on is bad, but the mechanisms of international governance, and in particular the United Nations charged with the ‘responsibility to protect’, simple cannot respond.

The Annan plan is like the Kyoto Treaty, the best and only game in town but completely unsuited for the scale of what it is trying to address. The world’s major powers are trapped in a comfortable inertia. The Europeans and the Americans are happy to make diplomatic gestures, like throwing out Syrian Ambassadors, and talking about how the Assad regime has lost legitimacy, but their biggest effort to unite the Syrian opposition remains half-baked to say the least. The Chinese and the Russians meanwhile, still smarting from being conned on Libya UNSCR 1973 and with deep strategic and economic ties with Syria, are stonewalling any movement at the United Nations.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 May 2012 15:20
Can Commercial Diplomacy Help the UK out of Recession? PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Monday, 14 May 2012 12:59


London, Asharq Al-Awsat- This April was not only the wettest for the UK since records began but also saw the country enter a double dip recession as the economy shrunk by 0.2%. The country is two years into a Liberal Democrat-Conservative Coalition Government whose economic plans combine a deficit reducing package of austerity with private sector export-led recovery. However the current recovery is proving to be the slowest in history, slower even than following the 1929 Great Depression. Indeed 2012 saw the UK fall behind Brazil in GDP as it edged closer to falling out of the list of top ten ranking global economies. The rankings are not perfect but what is clear is that the UK economy, like many in Europe, is stagnating if not declining. For Britain’s policy makers in Westminster, the question of how to manage this challenge and reposition the UK economy in an increasingly competitive global economy is an issue of paramount importance in modern politics.

A Commercial Foreign Policy

One of the key strategies the current government has adopted is an aggressive promotion of the UK globally as a vibrant and dynamic market in which to invest and do business. The UK foreign office has made promoting Britain’s prosperity a central part of its wider foreign policy agenda. The government has recently launched the “GREAT” Britain campaign designed to use the platform of the Olympic Games in 2012 to “showcase Britain’s capabilities, to promote and enhance our reputation abroad and to maximise the economic potential of the Games”. It was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in New York on 21 September 2011, and supports the marketing and public diplomacy efforts of UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), Visit Britain, the British Council, the Foreign Office and other government departments overseas.

The government has also undertaken several high-profile trade missions to emerging economies including China, India, and most recently South East Asia. The 2010 delegation to China was led by Prime Minister Cameron who travelled with the largest ever British trade mission to the country, including four other Cabinet ministers and 43 business delegates, as well as a small education and culture delegation. Following the visit a Parliamentary Select Committee praised the delegation for delivering “a number of tangible business outcomes. Trade deals announced included a $5 billion deal with Airbus and a £750 million deal with Rolls Royce”. The Committee also agreed that the “importance of regular high-level engagement with China should not be under-estimated”, while the Daily Mail reported that Government officials insist that exports to countries where Mr. Cameron takes a trade delegation are boosted by a fifth. Indeed after signing a £700m arms deal in India in 2010 Cameron spoke of how the trip was "evidence of our new, commercial foreign policy in action".

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