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Book review: Adam Curle Radical Peacemaker

Adam Curle Radical Peacemaker is published by Hawthorn Press. It’s an overview of the life and work of Quaker academic, and peace maker Adam Curle, and includes some of his most important and influential writing.

Adam Curle’s first contact with peace issues came through working with returning prisoners of war after WW2, but has taken him, over the following decades into many of the world’s most troubled zones. His writing comes therefore from a rare mix of firsthand experience, spiritual belief, and considered academic thinking. What he has to say about peace, is fascinating.

Too often, we allow peace to simply mean an absence of obvious conflict. Adam uses the term ‘unpeacefulness’ to talk about situations where there may be no overt violence, but nonetheless what’s happening is likely to lead to violence and is causing harm. Oppression, prejudice, injustice, any kind of cruel or degrading system creates a breeding ground for violent resentment. Anyone interested in genuine peace has to be willing to tackle unpeacefulness wherever it manifests.

I found it very powerful that this book recognises that sometimes it’s very hard, or impossible, for a group of people to go from unpeaceful relations to properly peaceful and constructive relations, without first having some kind of dramatic upheaval. You can’t negotiate for peace if you have no power. At the same time, the more violence there is in the transition, the harder it is to build genuine peace in the aftermath. Adam Curle is a great advocate of Ghandi’s methods – non-violent disruption, non-cooperation, and civil disobedience can be tools for radical change.

This is a book with a message that can be applied at all levels. From issues of international politics down to how we operate our individual households, peace is not the absence of violence, but a deliberate project. It’s something we can do. It’s something we can all do. As a peacemaker, the author has a lot to say about bridge building (conciliation) and mediation work to help opposing sides rethink their relationships and renegotiate for something more beneficial. He illustrates how angry narratives can become self perpetuating, but if both sides are saying ‘we want peace, but the other lot will never give up’ then there’s room for a third party to do some real good.

Some of the writing in this book dates back to the 1970s, and uses male pronouns to describe people who are doing things. There’s a certain irony here, talking about oppression and alienation and so forth in a language that explicitly excludes half the population. However, if you can grit your teeth for that bit, and chalk it up to the shortcomings of the period, what the author has to say is well worth hearing, and as we go along, the language evolves into something much more inclusive.

This book is many things. It’s a history lesson, a biography, a philosophical piece, and almost a ‘how-to’ manual for becoming an active peace practitioner. It’s not always an easy read, some of the ideas are challenging and the language is quite dense in places, but it is absolutely worth your time and effort. Highly recommended.

More about the book here – https://www.hawthornpress.com/books/social-ecology-and-management/adam-curle/