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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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
Hezbollah and Hamas – A Comparative Study PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Monday, 15 April 2013 10:31

Joshua Gleis and Benedetta Berti (John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2012)

(Reviewed for International Affairs) Gleis and Berti are two security experts who have written a niche study which serves as introductory fare for US and Israeli policy makers wanting to confirm what they perhaps already think about Hezbollah and Hamas. With phrases such as “mega terrorism” and “terrorist nest” used within a light weight text that relies almost entirely on secondary sources, many of which are media rather than academic in nature, the partial nature of its qualities contradicts the apparent four years of research that was spent in its making.

The work’s aim is to “provide an in-depth view of two of the most popular and featured radical Islamist groups that the world has ever known” (p.4) but there is little in the way of comparison. Indeed the book is essentially divided into quite separate investigations into both organisations with the last ten pages providing a cursory examination of how they actually compare. It is an openly Israeli-centric analysis with little in the way of theoretical underpinning and is rather a chronological examination of the two group’s history, ideology, structure, strategies and tactics.

The 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon is noted as the “ultimate accelerator for Hezbollah’s formation” (p.38) and the organisation is described as “more than just anti-Zionist; it also exhibits a rabid streak of anti-Semitisim” (p.56). The authors note both the organisation’s ‘pragmatism’ and its welfarism and deep connections to elements of Lebanese society, but the subject is only touched on in expense of a focus on the threats that Hezbollah can pose to Israel. However much of this analysis is seemingly based of rough speculation due to the admitted ‘shadowy’ and secretive structure of the organisation. The “difficulty” in knowing combined with sweeping generalisations undermine the premise of what could have been a fascinating genuine comparison of two important non-state actors.

The book proclaims certain black and white realities such as “Hezbollah combatants do not wear uniforms in combat” (p.76) which a few YouTube videos quickly disprove. It’s most interesting analysis, deserved of more comprehensive research, concerned the tri-border area of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay which Gleis and Berti introduce as the “operational and logistical centre for international terrorist groups” (p.71). However the conclusion reached – that Hezbollah has become a “leading insurgency organisation” (p.190) does not easily square with its far more complicated relationship with the Lebanese state and its more recently attempts to consolidate and defend the status quo by supporting the Assad regime in Syria.

A Test of Democracy PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Wednesday, 10 April 2013 08:35

The Majalla - Ten years after the invasion of the country, Iraq faces another round of elections against a backdrop of increased sectarian tensions and political intrigue.

On a recent visit to Iraq, I found little appetite or excitement for the upcoming local elections scheduled for April 20. One taxi driver said, “They’ve only recently finished working out how to share power from the last election, and now there is another vote.” Iraq’s fledgling democracy continues to be characterized by fragility as it faces its first elections since 2010. Political violence is increasing as we head towards the vote: on April 6, a suicide bomb and grenade attack killed at least twenty-two people and injured about fifty at a Sunni political rally in the eastern Iraqi city of Baquba.

To date, the country’s complex structures of political power have been a formula for gridlock in the name of national unity. A broad mix of ethnic, sectarian and tribal parties maneuver for an acceptable balance of power while Prime Minister Maliki continues to harvest authority directly to his office. These political institutions remain unable to peacefully channel dissent, with bloody violence a regular feature of what increasingly resembles an Iraqi Game of ThronesRussia Today has reported that the total number of politicians killed in the run-up to April’s elections now stands at eleven. In March, the spiraling death toll saw the government postpone the elections in the Sunni-majority governorates of Anbar and Nineveh for what it called security reasons. The cabinet, rejecting subsequent legal opposition to the move, confirmed that it was based on the requests of Anbar’s council, official entities, political blocs and parties, and the provinces’ dignitaries.

The Stateless Statesmen PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Tuesday, 26 March 2013 10:21

(The Majalla) Iraq’s Kurds Preparing to Challenge history

Ten years after the Iraq War, is this the moment for Iraqi Kurdistan to emerge from the shadows of its bloody past?
A birds-eye view of the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region, on 19 March 2013

A birds-eye view of the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region, on 19 March 2013

The vast majority of global debate over the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq has focused on the rights and wrongs of the decision to go to war and questions over whether the beleaguered Iraqis are now better off than they were under Saddam. While war fatigue and the Arab Spring have meant that Iraq has been much underreported in recent years, anniversaries are always opportune moments to take stock of where things are. This is especially true of Iraq, since it continues to sit at a crossroads, facing existential questions over its future identity.

Tragically fitting of the new type of insecurity faced by Iraqis, on the March 19 eve of the invasion anniversary a series of coordinated bomb blasts targeted Shi’a areas across Baghdad, killing over sixty people. Despite taking huge strides forward since the end of the 2006–2008 civil war, the new Iraq currently has the Sunni west of the country in open revolt, inspired by both the revolution in Syria and anger at the policies of Prime Minister Maliki. Maliki himself is a man whose growing authoritarian tendencies are increasingly of concern to outside observers, with Professor Toby Dodge describing him as consolidating his power by bringing the paramilitary and intelligence services under his direct control.

While the elites bicker, the country continues to suffer from chronic insecurity combined with struggling infrastructure, intermittent electricity and a poverty of effective state institutions. For example, instead of acting as a democratic beakon for the region, the Iraqi Parliament is a testimony to gridlock, inertia and incompetence, struggling to even find the numbers for the decisions it rarely makes. Indeed, the Parliament finally passed the country’s budget this March, despite it having been approved by the Iraqi cabinet the previous October.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 March 2013 10:25
The Assad Regime -- From Orwell to Conrad PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Tuesday, 05 March 2013 09:06

Two years into the conflict in Syria and the mask has slipped revealing that Assad is willing to enter the heart of darkness and take down the state along with his regime.

Living in Syria in the period 2005-2007, one was always struck by the blatant contradictions that characterised Assad's rule. In the jasmine-scented alleyways of the Old City of Damascus you never felt threatened by criminality and away from the bustle of the Souk there was a pervading sense of peacefulness -- yet this was a country living in a seemingly infinite state of emergency, with feared secret police forces and infamous prisons. If you wanted to find out about the workings of the State or the actions of its government the very last place you'd go is the Ministry of Information. State newspapers would seemingly report anything but the news. The country was technically at war with Israel but the Golan had been quiet for decades, with tourists to the town of Quneitra treated to an experience similar to visiting a museum rather than a potential flashpoint on the border of contested occupied territory. Beyond the facade of elections Government Ministers and Parliamentarians were mouthpieces for Assad and the Shadow State that kept his regime in power. The ubiquitous poster of Bashar and his father watched down on you everywhere you went -- Big Brother was indeed watching you.

Accountability in Syria PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Tuesday, 19 February 2013 15:08

The world appears to have run out solutions to the Syrian crisis. An extensive five-month report commissioned by the UN revealed in January that the generally accepted death toll of around 40,000 was wrong by almost half. Instead, the statisticians showed that 60,000 people had been killed by the end of last November; a death toll that is increasing at a rate of 5,000 a month. The steady increase in the lethality of fighting is also forcing more to flee the country, with January this year seeing a record 56,000 people cross into Jordan alone.


The UN Security Council remains divided against this backdrop of bloodshed. The Russians and the Chinese are refusing to countenance the notion of Syria’s sovereignty being compromised on the basis of internal fighting. At the same time, the US and Europe have ruled out unilateral military intervention and are deeply nervous about providing anything more than non-lethal support to the still-fragmented Syrian opposition. Yet the popular narrative—even from the Russians—is that it is only a matter of time before the Assad regime falls. This raises a huge range of questions as to what will happen after the conflict, and although it is certainly presumptuous to imagine a post-Assad Syria, it is nevertheless necessary to ensure that the international community is prepared for such an eventuality.

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