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Compiled and edited by Peace Direct, 'Unarmed Heroes: The Courage to Go Beyond Violence'

Clairview Books 2004; ISBN 1 9026 3652 X; Pb 257pp; £10.95

This offering from Peace Direct uses personal narratives to celebrate and give voice to a very different type of hero: individuals who have taken the frequently traumatic decision to reject the path of conflict in favour of the often more difficult but ultimately far more fulfilling route of active peace-making.

The subjects of these fifteen accounts would not characterise themselves as heroes, and it is this humility that gives the book much of its force. The stories are told with striking honesty; many of the contributors relate intense personal ordeals while others describe having participated in violent conflict themselves.

Their conversion to nonviolence almost always required them to probe their own deep-rooted assumptions, confronting, in the words of British activist Rachel Burgess, “questions that only I could answer by challenging things I had previously held dear.” In particular, a recurring theme is the need to reach a stage where “the other,” whether combatant, terrorist or politician, can be understood not as a faceless enemy but as a fellow human being.

The essays which comprise the second half of the Unarmed Heroes, particularly those by Francesca Cerletti and Scilla Elworthy, succeed in offering helpful, thought-provoking advice without seeming dogmatic, or diminishing the uniqueness of the experiences recounted.

Unarmed Heroes is a worthwhile read for anyone interested or engaged in nonviolence, offering a valuable reminder of the inseparability of outward activism from personal transformation and providing an inspiring, encouraging insight into the public and private struggles and achievements of nonviolent activists throughout the world.