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White Helmets and the Syrian conflict

Not winning the prize did not limit the public from standing behind the stories of these volunteers

Diana Moukalled

Published: Updated:

It is said that the human mind is programmed to understand and memorize stories in a deeper and more accurate way than it does when it comes to numbers and facts. Regardless of how simple words and images are, it is difficult to memorize them if they are not full of stories that help our mind understand them and put them in a certain context.

This is the reason why journalism – despite its many branches and the technological advancements – continues to depend on stories of human experience. It suits our mind’s composition and appeals to our sentiments as a result of which we don’t forget it.

Our innate attachment to a story, especially when it is overflowing with emotions due to the brutal reality, is perhaps the reason why the global media embraced the volunteers of the Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets. Despite all the support they received from major media outlets, celebrities, activists and human rights organizations, the White Helmets did not win the Nobel Prize for Peace.

However, not winning the prize did not limit the public from emotionally and standing behind the stories of these volunteers. Some even congratulated them for winning the “alternative Nobel prize.”

Our innate attachment to a story, especially when it is overflowing with emotions due to the brutal reality, is perhaps the reason why the global media embraced the volunteers of the Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets

Diana Moukalled

Wave of sympathy

So why all this sympathy? Who among us is not deeply moved by Khaled, the medic who broke into tears as he saved an infant from under the rubble of a building destroyed by Syrian-Russian shelling? It is definitely an indescribable feeling.

Who isn’t moved by the cries of children while they are pulled alive from under the rubble? Who among us can forget the medics’ stories and how they can figure out how violent the bombing is and how much destruction just the sound of the jets can cause?

One of the most touching movies about White Helmets was produced by the streaming service Netflix that professionally and realistically told some of their stories. The movie narrated the stories of the volunteers and the ordeal of the Syrians who are trapped in areas suffering from brutal Syrian and Russian shelling, which has dangerously escalated in the past few weeks.

Horrific reality

The White Helmets’ narration of the horrifying reality on the ground made people across the world feel involved in the Syrian conflict and in the heroic acts of these young men who have bravely rescued others and in some cases even sacrificed their own lives to save others.

In addition, there are videos made by volunteers themselves during their operations as they rescue people despite the threat and destruction around them. There has been a campaign aiming to link these young men to extremist organizations and to raise suspicions on their sources of funding. However, people voiced solidarity with them against these attempts aimed at harming their reputation.

Realism is what distinguishes the recorded rescue operations and the volunteers’ and survivors’ narratives. It is what made the White Helmets one of the most inspiring and influential stories produced by the war in Syria. Therefore, it’s normal or rather necessary that they receive help and support.

The White Helmets not receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace seems akin to the Syrian call for an end to the murderous regime, which the world has not been unable to achieve.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 10, 2016.
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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.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.