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
Aleppo's reckoning PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Friday, 06 May 2016 15:27

(Al Jazeera) The citadel that dominates the Aleppo city skyline gives the place a sense of timelessness and permanence, yet Syria's biggest city is currently facing an existential challenge. If, or more likely when, the opposition-controlled areas are cut off from the outside world it will signal not just the biggest siege in the country to date but also a new chapter in the five-year conflict.

The Geneva process, which contained so much hope and promise, gathering the main players and backers into an ambitious series of deadlines for transition and constitutional reform, will surely not survive the siege or fall of Aleppo.

The cessation of hostilities, the main positive to emerge from the talks, saw a huge reduction in mortality rates and 3.7 million Syrians receive food aid in March alone.

Increasingly, however, it could be seen not as a genuine space for peace to emerge but rather a period for redeployment before this latest offensive was launched.

Terrorism and tourism in Tunisia PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Friday, 06 May 2016 15:24

(The Young Arab) Tunisia's recent history shows the power of globalised violence to inspire and inflate the actions of an individual at the expense of the vast majority. For a country that is still coming to terms with its post-revolutionary politics, it remains in the crosshairs of IS and its tourist sector is in urgent need of genuine international support.

The first killer

In April 2002 a suicide attacker detonated a huge explosion outside a synagogue on the southern Tunisian island of Djerba, killing 14 German tourists, four Tunisians and a French tourist. The synagogue was gifted to Jews who had fled Roman persecution by the Berbers in 6th century BC, and as a marker of tolerance and generosity towards others it was an obvious al-Qaeda target. Despite the Bin Laden inspired movement promising 'more to come', Tunisia was largely quiet for almost the next decade.

Then the actions of another individual - Mohamed Bouazizi - sparked the fires of revolution and upheaval across the region. His self-immolation and death in 2011 triggered Tunisia's revolution that saw the end of Ben Ali's 23 years in power. The revolution did not however provide an instant panacea to the country's problems, nor did it immunise it against the global appeal born out of the rise of IS.

Tunisia is reported to have provided the single largest number of foreign fighters who have rallied under the black flag in Syria and Iraq. Discontent among many young, unemployed Tunisians is often cited as one of the reasons behind this, and IS has every reason to want to maintain this. Another arguably more powerful factor is the disintegration of the Libyan state and the subsequent civil conflict and chaos that emerged to Tunisia's east. Weapons, safe spaces to train and porous borders combine into a potent mix for a trans-national 'Caliphate' interested in expansion.

ISIL and the curious case of John Cantlie PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Friday, 01 April 2016 11:50

(Al Jazeera) British photojournalist John Cantlie has been in ISIL captivity since 2012. But rather than appearing as a passive object of captivity, he has emerged as a media tool for the group to pursue its wider aims.

New footage released this month, taking place against the backdrop of the busy streets of Mosul, was the first seen in more than a year. It was the seventh film of a series titled Lend Me Your Ears, in which a rather unenthusiastic and increasingly thin-looking Cantlie regurgitates standard rhetoric from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) about how great they are and how corrupt and ineffective their enemies are.

In this case, Cantlie bemoaned the waste of $5bn of US taxpayers' money spent bombing innocuous ISIL "media kiosks". The imagery and detail in the series has painted a very different picture from Mosul and Aleppo from that covered in the mainstream press.He also has a column in the slick online ISIL magazine, Dabiq, in which he made headlines when he floated the idea that "a truce with Western nations is always an option in Shariah law". Unlike his video appearances we can be even less sure that the writing in Dabiq is Cantlie's, although there is no doubting the shift in his value from hostage to an intimidated asset of a very different sort.Indeed, while he initially appeared in the bright orange Guantanamo inspired jumpsuits, in his later films he is seen simply in black, ISIL's shade of choice.

Stockholm syndrome, sometimes known as capture-bonding, describes how hostages can come to sympathise and develop positive feelings towards their captors. It is no surprise that after years in detention Cantlie is adjusting to do whatever he needs to do to survive.

Lessons from Srebrenica to Syria PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Friday, 01 April 2016 11:48

(Al-Araby) It was over twenty years since the forces of Bosnian-Serb General Mladic slaughtered some 8,000 Bosnian Muslims from the town of Srebrenica. I recently visited the graveyards that mark the victims, the mortuaries and laboratories that continue the search for the missing. I met those who lost their entire family and others who hid bleeding amongst the dead but managed to escape and tell their stories.

Two decades on the country's wounds are still open and the social divisions frozen, rather than healed. Meanwhile in Syria, the peace talks and cessation of hostilities have given the country a moment of calm following five years of slaughter. Whilst the present remains unstable, Syria's future is likely to be tumultuous and, for that matter, it's worth learning the lessons from other countries that have endured brutal civil conflict, massacres and splitting of society along ethnic and sectarian lines.

The division of Yugoslavia from one country to six with further divisions came at the cost of over 100,000 dead in Bosnia in the space of some three years. Europe, a continent that said 'never again' after the Holocaust, witnessed the re-emergence of concentration camps and mass slaughter. Civil society activists in Sarajevo, a city that endured the longest siege of modern times - 47 months, spoke of how quickly society disintegrated and how neighbours turned against each other. Survivors of the Srebrenica killings, recognised by the international courts as genocide, talk of how their favourite teacher became their callous jailer and torturer. Time has healed much of the hatred but with those who perpetrated much of the killings in denial and accountability partial at best, division remains, stymieing the development of a country that some are now calling a 'failed state'.


Last Updated on Friday, 01 April 2016 14:04
Power Wars PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Friday, 01 April 2016 11:44

(Review for New York Journal of Books) Charlie Savage, the Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalist, has put together a wide-ranging and important examination of the Obama presidency focusing on the legal-security challenges of modern war. The huge account, perhaps Savage’s Magnus Opus, chronicles how “interpreting and applying national security law to such turbulent and rapidly changing conditions” post-9/11 was a huge amount of work for an Obama administration that sought to define itself against his predecessor’s record.

Obama had promised “unprecedented level of openness in government” reversing a culture the Democrats claimed the Bush administration had created. Savage explains that Cheney in particular saw the law as encroaching on presidential power. The accumulation of executive power by the Bush presidency and potential violations of civil liberties and the rule of law, saw a response from Obama but one that was actually more continuity than change and was, as Savage writes, “more hawkish than many had expected.”

Indeed the Obama administration would focus on the ensuring the rule of law and not rolling back on the challenges to civil liberties. The focus was on waging a rules-based war, and as Obama would say “we do need to update our institutions to deal with this threat.”

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