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
Syria: the ‘extremist dilemma’ PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Wednesday, 15 January 2014 10:38

(Progress) As we hurtle towards the third year anniversary of the conflict in Syria it is time to address how extremists are increasingly centre-stage.


Let us consider two moments in the conflict in Syria. Last September, when it looked to the entire world that the United States was about to strike the country, Senator Ted Cruz criticised President Barack Obama’s efforts saying the U3S military shouldn’t be ‘al-Qaida’s air force.’ Last week Syrian rebels issued a plea to the West to supply them with arms and supplies. However what made this plea different from the numerous previous ones was that the weapons were requested to fight al-Qaida linked groups.



The presence of ‘extremists’ within the rebel opposition has been a critical factor in the arguments of the regime, its allies and those in the west who warn that the conflict has no good guys and is best avoided. The price of inaction is well known, over 120,000 dead, over half a million wounded and almost half the country displaced from their homes. Today there are almost more Syrians living outside of Syria than in the country. It’s time to acknowledge that the narrative born largely of the ‘War on Terror’ continues to dominate the British public’s view of the Syrian Opposition and therefore options around our greater involvement in the conflict.


The US Cavalry Is Not Coming PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Wednesday, 11 December 2013 13:05

(Majalla) Monday marked the 1,000th day of the conflict in Syria. The day itself saw stories of the regime on the offensive near the border with Lebanon, refugees struggling with the worsening winter, extremists kidnapping nuns, and continued pessimistic debate over whether the upcoming Geneva II peace conference will be a success. Meanwhile, Washington’s place in this tragic narrative increasingly seems to be on the sidelines.

On the same day, at a conference in Bahrain, the country’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, warned that US President Barack Obama’s administration would lose influence in the region if it persisted with its “transient and reactive” foreign policy. Through a bizarre coincidence, another story was about to be broken by the renowned US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that claimed to show US policy on Syria in its most reactive light to date. Hersh claimed, based largely on off-the-record interviews with US defense officials, that the Obama administration had cherry-picked intelligence surrounding the sarin gas attack in Damascus in August. His article claimed that the US knew that the radical Al-Nusra Front also had access to such weapons but that the regime was blamed as part of a decision to intervene militarily against it. This decision was then undermined by a lack of international support and domestic opposition in the States that led the US to embrace the face-saving agreement to disarm Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Sadly, Hersh’s story is unlikely to be corroborated and may join the increasingly long list of shadowy stories concerning US intelligence and Middle East weapons. What the story does conform to, however, is the widely held view of the Obama administration’s approach to the Syrian conflict as being reluctant and tactically responsive, rather than a strategic approach aimed at achieving a clearly articulated set of goals.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 December 2013 13:07
Syria’s Deadly Bureaucracy PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Friday, 30 August 2013 09:29

Majalla - The latest chemical attack, which allegedly killed hundreds in Damascus, will worsen the humanitarian disaster in Syria. Last week, the UN registered the one millionth Syrian child refugee. Earlier in the month, the UN also confirmed what many already suspected—that over 100,000 people have now died in the battle for Syria. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, chair of the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, responded with a phrase which could encapsulate the conflict, stating that “it is not enough to be appalled.”


As international intervention looms, the humanitarian crisis worsens and the boundaries of civilized behavior continue to crumble, it is important to understand that it is not just the Syrian regime’s tanks, aircraft, or possible use of chemical weapons, nor the opposition’s motley array, of weaponry that are killing people. Bureaucracy, both inside and outside the country, is increasingly acting to accentuate the fallout from the conflict, with a host of deadly consequences. It has become a weapon of war, manifested through paperwork, checkpoints and sieges, which are resulting in the denial of access to lifesaving medical care.

Guardian Letter on Russia PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Friday, 09 August 2013 09:06

Congratulations to Stephen Fry for speaking out on Russian human rights abuses in regards to their anti-gay laws (Report, 8 August). Considering the $35bn investment the Russians are putting into what for them is a very symbolic event, one wonders whether a larger international boycott could be formed around Moscow's intransigence over the conflict in Syria. As all other diplomatic avenues have failed, this could make Putin think twice about his continued refusal to allow the UN security council to speak in a united voice towards a conflict that has killed over 100,000 people. What is more, we now know that Saudi Arabia offered Russia $15bn worth of deals for them to move on Syria – so perhaps Riyadh could host the Winter Olympics instead.

Insight into the Middle East's Freedom Deficit PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Wednesday, 07 August 2013 08:00

Of Empires and Citizens: Pro-American Democracy or No Democracy at All?

Amaney Jamal, Princeton University Press, United Kingdom, 2012

(Huffington Post / International Affairs) The health of Arab democracy has been sorely tested after the initial hope and optimism that came at the start of the Arab Spring. The grinding, near apocalyptic, conflict in Syria means that images of protestors filling the streets of Homs in 2011 have been replaced by those of a city in virtual complete ruin. In Egypt the squares that filled with those demanding the ousting of a dictator now compete with each other over the legitimacy of the supposedly post-revolutionary era. Progress in Tunisia and Libya remains pockmarked by violence. In 'liberated' Iraq, July of this year saw the worst violence in over five years. Talking to AFP one Iraqi bemoaned recently how under Saddam "I was not allowed to talk; now I can talk but nobody will listen".

Against such a backdrop Amaney Jamal, an associate professor at Princeton University who has written extensively on democracy, looks to better explain what she terms the 'persistence of authoritarianism' across the region. The book reflects a huge academic effort, a "massive data collection effort in three countries" of Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait. The effort is reflected by the thorough presentation of evidence -- the work includes detailed foot and endnotes, chapter appendices complete with snippets of the author's methodology, questionnaires and further hypotheses.

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