Sunday, April 27, 2014

Can Love Overcome Hate?

There is a fallacy out there that a graphic novel can't be serious. People assume they are frivolous and unintellectual. I call BS on those assumptions! And Jay Cantor and James Romberger's Aaron and Ahmed will destroy any assumptions you may have had, too. 

Aaron wasn't a privileged man, but he took advantage of the military to send him to medical school. When the woman he loved was killed in a hijacked plane on 9/11 when it crashed into the second tower, he made a decision fueled by anger and revenge: he chose to become a doctor at Guantanamo Bay. He supervised the torture and made sure the prisoners held without due process weren't tortured to death. While he thought it would be easy to watch these men tortured, he realized even the loss of his love didn't change the man he truly was. 

He proposed an alternate means to get information out of the most closed-off and stubborn inmate: Ahmed. Aaron's idea was to feed Ahmed estrogen and treat him kindly in an effort to gain his trust and open him up. Aaron thought he could change Ahmed, but in reality, something different happened. Ahmed changed Aaron. The humanity, or lack thereof, in what was happening in the prison was affecting Aaron in ways that he couldn't contain any longer. Together they would travel a journey that explored the nature of hate and manipulation that leads to one human choosing to do the most inhuman thing they could- choosing to end the lives of innocent people. 

This graphic novel was absolutely not what I expected going into it. It was so much more. In fact, now that I have finished it, I am having trouble even remembering my preconceived notions because it was so transformative. There is so much to the ideas of humanity and torture and safety and fear, that unless we expose ourselves to those raw nerves, they will never be soothed. It reminded me of the experience I had in a class recently where my students and I were discussing Civil Rights. They were obviously uncomfortable about the frank and earnest discussion at first, but they persisted and the idea of discussion Civil Rights and humanity became easier with each statement. When we avoid talking about the things that make us uncomfortable, we give them power. By talking about them and thinking about them, we can change ourselves and the world for the better. If those people who started and have continued to fight for Civil Rights in this country succumbed to the discomfort of difficult questions and situations, would we still have separate drinking fountains and bathrooms? Confronting the difficult is how we make progress, and Aaron and Ahmed wanted us to think about torture, fear, understanding our similarities and acknowledging our differences so we can find a way to stop the atrocities that are committed by both sides of this deadly and clandestine war on terror. 

I would give this to any older students because the material is very deep, dark, and thought-provoking. It requires a certain maturity and self-awareness in order to make the impression it was written for upon its reader. A more immature reader would fail to connect to the difficult questions being asked. I look forward to sharing this story with appropriate students and am intrigued by the kind of discussions it will no doubt spurn. Now we must continue these tough questions in order to make our present better than our past. 

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