Why the Syrian crisis needs the likes of Angelina Jolie

Celebrity Angelina Jolie carried the story of a Syrian refugee to the world. Little Hala met with the star to share her experiences in a refugee camp in Lebanon

Diana Moukalled

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Nine minutes. No blood, no tears, no screams and no speeches.

Nine minutes of scenes from a refugee camp were far more expressive than other scenes which may have unintentionally transformed the Syrian tragedy into a lame narrative that no longer interests audiences and which has led people to turn their attention towards something new. Nine minutes were used to narrate some of little Hala’s diaries and how she lives in a tent for Syrian refugees in the Lebanese Beqaa valley.


Hala, who is described as the youngest mother of the refugee camp in Beqaa, is an 11-year-old Syrian child. She fled Syria with her five siblings after shelling on their house killed her mother and after they lost track of their father. Her oldest brother now suffers from epilepsy as a result of the shock and, bar one other older brother, her other brothers are still young.

Taking her story to the world

Celebrity Angelina Jolie carried Hala’s story to the world. In nine minutes Angelina narrated Hala’s story. The video showed Hala’s smiles and her concern for her brother when he got dizzy and how she gave him medicine. Language was an obstruction during the visit as the children don’t know English and Angelina tried hard to understand them before translators stepped in.

The Western public opinion is struck by confusion and boredom when it comes to the Syrian crisis

Diana Moukalled

Angelina’s calm voice narrated the story and spoke of the horrible magnitude of Syrian refugees’ problems, especially of women and children. It also spoke of Lebanon’s problems as the country is incapable of containing the number of refugees who now constitute one quarter of its population.

The video with Hala was released as controversy in Lebanon over the issue of Syrian refugees increased and as political and popular rhetoric has addressed the issue from a racial perspective. This has called for a campaign to oppose such rhetoric.

This nine-minute video which Angelina Jolie shot was released and broadcast by global media outlets and revealed the frankest image of both the refugees’ crisis and Lebanon’s crisis. Lebanese politicians did not make use of Angelina’s ability to influence public opinion as they were busy dressing up and taking photos with her. They were oblivious to the real meaning of her visit.

Why we need celebrities

A few months ago, Jeremy Barnicle, chief development and communications officer at the aid organization Mercy Corps, wrote an article entitled “Why Syria needs George Clooney.” Clooney is the celebrity who, like Jolie, is concerned with humanitarian causes and who played a role in bringing attention to the suffering of Darfur refugees South of Sudan.

The Western public opinion is struck by confusion and boredom when it comes to the Syrian crisis. It doesn’t understand the complex situation and no one sees a solution on the horizon. When the public opinion, especially the Western one, deviates its attention from the Syrian crisis, politicians and decision makers find respite from pressure that pushes them to resolve crises similar to the Syrian one.

In this case, it seems we really need Jolie and Clooney, not for marketing but for providing a new angle that brings attention back to this tragedy. The efficiency of the pressure which the alliance of some celebrities, civil organizations and journalists might achieve has been proven. Addressing the West is substantial because solutions lie in the hands of Western governments and institutions before they lie in our hands. Decision making capitals exist, the U.N. exists and so do dozens of international aid organizations.

Angelina Jolie’s nine minutes was more influential than speeches which are used to exploit the Syrians’ suffering in futile disputes.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on March 31, 2014.


Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.

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