Occupy Fallujah was an olive branch. Today, it is in mourning. Not every one has the right to peace. When you are a Sunni Muslim man from the al-Anbar province of Iraq, wearing a long white dish-dasha, a beard, and a turban, your only right is to die, preferably in violent and painful circumstances, with one of your children by your side: the more children, the better, so that the next generation may be wiped out as well. Whether is it in a US-led drone strike, or an Israeli targeted killing in the West Bank, the script is always the same. The democracy and freedom of a few trump the right to peace for all.
Occupy Fallujah was a nice idea at the time. It started in December 2012, in the Mosque of Sheikh al-Hamoudi. The movement had three simple demands: the inclusion of Sunni Muslims in an Iraqi political scene perceived as dominated by Shi’a Muslims, the end of talk of federalism, and the removal of Nuri al-Maliki alongside the organization of free and fair elections. When I met him last July, Sheikh al-Hamoudi told me how Prime Minister al-Maliki had tried to crush the Occupy movement by offering him a house in Jordan and a space in the government. This would, after all, comply with the movement’s first demand. The Sheikh told me how his counterpart in Ramadi had accepted a similar offer, while others were considering being turned. He said that he owed it to his people not to bow to what he referred to as bribery. I asked him he if considered this also as a potential threat: accept the deal or pay the consequences. He replied that he was not interested in money.
He owned an old Daewoo Prince vehicle, and lived in a modest house, as the rest of his money was used for the Occupy Fallujah effort and his mosque. As he made his way to the Occupy site today, in the industrial area of Fallujah, a vehicle blocked the road; two armed men got out with fully loaded Kalashnikovs, and riddled his car with bullets. His son was driving with him, they both died instantly. A few hours later, the Iraqi Hamas, the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, claimed responsibility for the killing.
As I returned home from my first meeting with Sheikh Hamoudi, I remember finding a chain of e-mails from colleagues on the recent “democratic coup” in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood had been arbitrarily removed after the first free and fair elections for years, and my enlightened colleagues were congratulating themselves on the victory of collective action over the tyranny of backward Muslims. The fact that “those” people had been democratically elected made no difference to Peace and Conflict Studies scholars: Morsi had to be removed and that was a good thing. Who cared if this went against all the democratic values they teach year in, year out? A few minutes before, I had spoken to Sheikh Hamoudi about the Brotherhood. There was also a branch in Fallujah. He said that the Brothers were not devout Muslims, and that he was not going to cry over the imprisonment of Morsi. He also reminded me that democracy was not a luxury to be afforded by the perceived “enemies” of Western enlightened thought. After all, no one from the international community had come to document and acknowledge the initiatives of Occupy Fallujah. I was the first Westerner to make it there since December 2012. As we parted, he asked me to think about the following point: if no one listens to Occupy Fallujah when they are employing Western non-violent collective action strategies, how else could they make their voices heard? Sheikh al-Hamoudi knew that in the Liberal Peace world, he and his people are second-class citizens who are not eligible to play the democracy game, yet he had also seen the limits of armed violence. Was there not another path?
The Hamas al-Iraq became prominent after the departure of US troops in December 2011. They are perceived to be so close to the Nuri al-Maliki government that they are nicknamed by the population after the AAH, the controversial Shi’a Special Forces Asaib Ahlalhaq, responsible for targeted killings, disappearances and summary executions. As the AAH, the Hamas al-Iraqi benefits from unlimited funds the security passes from the Maliki government. So why was Skeih al-Hamoudi killed? Prime Minister Maliki is preparing the next parliamentary elections, for April 2014. Occupy Fallujah and the rest of demonstrations in other Sunni Muslim provinces have been a stone in his shoe for long enough. It was time to bring order to the house, so that free and fair elections can at last be organized. To this, I am certain that none of my Liberal Peace colleagues will object.
The last time I saw Sheikh al-Hamoudi, he was handing food parcels to widows who had been internally displaced after the cleansing of their Sunni-Shi’a mixed areas. The Occupy site was full of people, and I felt like I was crashing a family reunion. He welcomed me with open arms and asked me to sit right next to him, as their guest of honor. As I remember him today, alongside all the ghosts that are part of my Iraqi research, I have an answer to his question. There should be a right to peace for all, as there was a right to equity resulting from the Civil Rights Movement, or a right to self-determination after the Salt March. Occupy Fallujah as it stood under Sheikh al-Hamoudi deserves to be acknowledged, supported, and most of all, heard.