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.
I call this the Alt-Qaeda movement, and interestingly it has many supporters in the western world. Previously, I have mentioned some of them by name such as Charles Lister who openly advocates for jihadi groups. I have also pointed out clear-cut cases of Jihadi propaganda coming out of Aleppo and given examples of how America gets tricked time and time again.
The White Helmets group may include some moderate, decent, and brave individuals but at the end of the day they are used as an appendage of Al-Nusra for propaganda purposes. On the flip side, Russian propaganda organs hold that the White Helmets and pretty much anyone in rebel controlled areas is a de facto terrorist. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda is digging in and preparing for the long haul in places like Yemen, Syria, and in several key locations in Africa.
The White Helmets, for all the good they may have done, are largely a rebranding effort by Al-Nusra, and a representation of the Alt-Qaeda movement that the western world is currently being sold on. This is nothing new of course, as the rebel groups have played the game quite well, giving their own canned talking point interviews to the CIA and Special Forces in which they pretend to be moderates. With the Americans desperate for the partner force, all the rebels have to do is kick back and watch the foreign arms flow into their hands.