When I watched the documentary “White Helmets” I was somewhat less impressed than the Oscars apparently were.  This week, the White Helmets documentary took home an Oscar for best documentary in the short subject category.  The documentary is about a group of Syrians who wear white protective helmets and rescue civilians from bombed out buildings.

As near as I could tell, the white helmets filmed themselves inside Syria and then brought that footage back across the border to Turkey to the British NGO that they receive training from.  The interviews for the documentary were also shot in Turkey.  Based upon viewing the film, the people making the documentary never set a foot inside Syria.

The interviews are awkward with the participants speaking in talking points.  It is perfectly clear to anyone watching that their words have been rehearsed beforehand.  What is absent from the documentary is what the White Helmet’s relationship is with the various rebel groups inside Syria.  How could they conduct their humanitarian work without the permission of Al Qaeda affiliated groups like Al-Nusra?  This is never explained in the documentary.

This is not to say that the White Helmets have not engaged in real humanitarian work, they have.  However, the White Helmets have been used by the likes of Al-Nusra to present a kinder, softer image of jihad.  No orange jump suits, no dirty beards, no allah akbars.  Al Qaeda is playing the long game, using a strategy that attempts to provide some public services and give themselves an increased sense of legitimacy amongst the populace.  The White Helmets help accomplish that.