Graphic Novel Review: Aaron and Ahmed: A Love Story
JUDGING this book by its cover, you’d probably think it was a cross-cultural story of overcoming love in the face of prejudice, where in fact it’s actually closer to being a commentary on the motivations of terrorism, the nature of meme theory and how circumstance creates unlikely bonds between diverse individuals.
Military doctor Aaron Goodman is devastated by the death of his fianc�e, a passenger on one of the planes which hit the Twin Towers on 9/11, and seeks vengeance on the perpetrators by becoming an interrogator and torturer at Guantanamo Bay.
During the course of his psychological and physical experiments on the inmates, Aaron begins to piece together the theory that suicide bombers are actually programmed using memes –an idea, behaviour or style which spreads from person to person within a culture, transmitting ideas and belief information, as coined by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.
His search for cold science behind terrorism leads him to Ahmed, a Gitmo prisoner who he tries to manipulate into caring for him using a combination of hormones and psychiatry. As the bond between the two men develops, Ahmed reveals information which suggests Aaron’s theories of memes being used in jihadist training camps are actually correct – and what’s more, he can prove it…
After breaking Ahmed out of captivity, the two men flee to the mountain ranges of Pakistan, where Aaron becomes indoctrinated into the ranks of the hashashin, the religiously-inspired forces behind terrorist attacks on the West, leaving him unable to determine whether his thoughts are still his own.
Returning to New York with Ahmed and Aaron discovers he has apparently been infected with a viral meme which will spread the jihadists’ message of terrorism throughout the West, turning ordinary citizens into fanatical suicide bombers when they are exposed to a trigger image.
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As the medic struggles to determine what is real and what is the result of some sort of brainwashing, he must also question his feelings for Ahmed, his loyalties to his country, and how far he is really prepared to go in search of the truth…
Writer Jay Cantor and artist James Romberger have succeeded here in creating a graphic novel which challenges the reader’s perceptions on a host of different levels, forcing you to question how you would react to the challenges Aaron faces, and how much of what he really feels is merely in his head.
This may be a love story, but it’s not a sexual or romantic love which is explored here, it’s a love for one’s identity, one’s beliefs and one’s country. The bond which develops between Aaron and Ahmed is born out of their shared experiences and their need to challenge the preconditioning of their individual cultures.
Like many original graphic novels, this is a story which works best as the combination of images and text only found in comic strips, as it allows for a blurring of reality and imagination which wouldn’t translate to screen or isolated prose.
Don’t be fooled by what initial impressions the cover image might present, this is far more than a clash of cultures, it’s an exploration of what makes us think a certain way, and whether those beliefs can be challenged and altered. A remarkable work.