Aaron & Ahmed: A Love Story is a graphic novel by Jay Cantor (writer), James Romberger (artist) and Jose Villarrubia (colorist) published by Vertigo.
I was looking forward to this book because the subject matter was about what causes terrorism. I find that topic to be of intense interest because I personally have the viewpoint that we have created many of our own problems. Most Americans don’t pay attention or are unaware of our activities in the world, but what we have done in many countries has created hostility towards us. Of course that does not justify 9/11 or other acts, but to understand what is going on we have to try and be objective. Going back further in history I’m sure the colonial revolutionist were considered terrorists to the British.
A long preamble, but I was excited to think someone was doing a book about this topic. It is about an American Army Doctor who loses his fiancee during 9/11 and who signs up to be at Guantanamo Bay. Since Dr. Aaron Goodman is a psychiatrist he decides to try a very different method with Ahmed to learn what information he may have regarding our war on the terrorists.
In the beginning the book is about how the relationship between the two builds. Trust is extremely hard to come by and both are playing the other in many ways. Dr. Goodman is, for example, feeding estrogen to him so he will be more emotional. Unknown to Dr. Goodman, Ahmed has found out and is avoiding it.
We get into an examination of programing and the theory that memes can almost be a virus. Aaron and Ahmed escape to try and find out how to turn off suicide bombers and learn how they are programmed. This leads to Aaron and Ahmed getting back to the terrorist camps and Aaron getting programed — then covertly returning into the US for Aaron to be used as a suicide bomber. Their friendship blossoms into an almost love affair, which besides a kiss that was more for shock is never fully played out.
And that is ultimately the problem with the book. It never plays out any of its ideas. It has many good ideas in the book about religion, tolerance, what is right and wrong, how culture and society dictate to man, but it never gets to the heart of the matter. It never gets down to looking at why certain people have decided the only way to express their anger and aggression is via terror.
Recently, the FBI targeted a young man and played him until he was willing to take a bomb (fake, but he didn’t know) into a recruiting station. Then they arrested him and said how they stopped an act of terror. It was an insane moment that we have fallen to such acts of cultivating a powerless youth and feeding him a power fantasy to then proclaim victory. We could have spent half as much money and given him training to find a good job, and he might have made a great citizen.
I wanted an examination of our rage from 9/11 and/or the rage of the terrorist. I wanted to learn from both. Aaron & Ahmed throws out some interesting intellectual ideas but never quite hits the mark.
One of the things I love about graphic novels is the art, and here James Romberger and Jose Villarrubia deliver. The artwork maintains the narrative flow of the story and always enhances the work and never detracts from the story.
All in all I would recommend reading it as the ideas presented are still interesting and worth considering.