The following was written by Taha Bali on Facebook on October 6, 2016:
I can’t stop staring at the White Helmets Time cover.
Maybe it is the awe of seeing one of the more eloquent Quranic verses written in English on an American magazine cover–“Whoever saves one life, saves all of humanity.”
Maybe it is the location, subconsciously assumed to be Aleppo, and the heart-wrenching scene where the picture was taken. Stare long enough into that cloud of dust and you will smell the gunpowder, your eyes will start burning, and your ears will ring from the after-explosion. Stare long enough and your mind will start wandering–was it an apartment building that had just been struck? Was it a hospital? It is daytime in that picture, was it, then, a school full of children?
Or, maybe, it is how the picture so brilliantly captures the essence of who the White Helmets are; their camaraderie, working and facing death together as a tight family; their meager resources–and resourcefulness, rushing towards their unthinkable mission in a primitive pick-up truck; their bravery, diving into the mist of rubble not knowing what awaits but all too aware of the standard procedure of regime’s jets coming back for a “double-tap” hit that maximizes casualties among civilians and first responders; their anonymity, turning their backs to the world, perhaps in reciprocity.
Tomorrow we know if the White Helmets were awarded The Nobel Peace Prize. I have always found it curious that a group of good old white folks in a cold faraway country gets to confer or withhold such “honor” from this or that entity. I do not know if I actually want them to win. After all, the list of laureates has its share of despots and criminals and bigots, from Sadat to Begin to Kyi. It, ironically, has Barack Obama, whose cynicism and political calculations have been instrumental in perpetuating the very ordeal of which the White Helmets were born. Their competitors for the prize are the architects of the Iran Deal whose primary side effect has been the carnage that engulfed their country. What does that say of the wisdom of the good old white folks, one has to wonder.
I have generally made a conscious effort not to talk about how events in Syria have reflected on my personal life. Be it my inherent discreetness, the sense of embarrassment of whining about whatever we in exile have to go through compared to people “on the ground,” or the weariness of adding any new grim and discouraging words to the depressing place that is the Syrian social media. So allow me to make an exception.
There are few things that have touched me to the core like reading about and watching the White Helmets work, and then listening and talking to Raed Saleh, the head of the organization. A man one month my junior, he oversees all 120 centers of the White Helmets (whose name I refuse to abbreviate lest I remember the White House) and has mourned the loss of more than 130 of his volunteers in the line of duty. The determination with which he speaks, the passion straight out of March 2011, the risk he takes doing what he does away from his children, the humility of someone who refused to be interviewed for a documentary made about an organization *he* leads, are hard to put into words. But they are enough to remind you of the larger-than-life spirit that seized us all in the early days of the Arab Spring. Enough to make you stop and reflect on the value and consequences of sacrifice in the crudest of forms. Enough to inspire and infuse an ever-so-precious meaning into the life of anyone in attendance.
I do not know if the White Helmets will win the Nobel Prize, and I frankly do not care. Nor should they.
They have saved all of humanity.