My wife watched introduced me to a film called Camp X-Ray not too long ago. At the time when she told me about the movie, I didn’t pay much attention to it. However, during the previous summer, I had an opportunity to watch it myself. I was intensely gratified by the warm compassionate story, the development of the antagonist, Ali Amir, and the Christian moral elements embedded deep within.
The film tells the life of a new detainee guard, Amy Cole, at Guantanamo Bay post-September 11. While on library duty dispersing books, she develops an annoying friendship with a detainee that is fascinated by the available literature. Initially, she is reluctant to give in to maintain the composure of having zero tolerance toward the inmates, but the detainee is intrigued by her. Over the course of her time in Guantanamo Bay, she overcomes the anti-terrorist mentality that the workers are to adopt and eventually begins to see the detainee as a human being. He too slowly begins to open up to her about his life and struggles to eventually develop a transformative bond that’s met with criticism by the hierarchy at the prison.
One thing I think the film illustrates superbly is that the human person is created with dignity regardless of stigmas or oppression it encounters. Ali Amir, the detainee, is an innocent man allegedly linked to Al Quaeda. He knows he’s innocent. His lawyers knew this, but him being a prisoner at Gitmo is a paralyzing stint on his background. No one would want such a person in their community. As a result, he feels mentally trapped by how society views terrorist.
On top of the anguish Amir feels of being caged psychologically, the fellow detainees there are subjected to, at times, harsh treatment and verbal abuse by the soldiers. When Amy slowly starts to lower her guard towards Amir, she starts to let go of what society reinforces about Muslims and starts to realize the inherent worth of her neighbor. No matter what society reinforced, she chooses to embrace a completely radical view of this detainee. Instead of looking at him through the lens of fear and xenophobia, as does her fellow soldiers, she sees him as someone that deserves compassion.
Didn’t Jesus Christ do the same? He elevated the worth of common outcasts and ceremonially “unclean” Jews to a status that was unheard of by the teachers of religious law. They, maintaining the outward appearance of righteousness but internally hearts away from God, demonstrated the brutal lack of respect toward the image of God recorded in the Scriptures.
More importantly, the film reinforces a strong view of mercy. Truly, everyone needs mercy. Jesus encourages us to be stewards of God’s mercy. How selfish are we to ignore mercy to others, if God has lavished mercy upon on us? That’s completely hypocritical. Regardless of whatever sins of the past are or their current predicament, we need to be a better disciple of compassion.
Even Jesus points this out in so many of his parables, especially regarding the neglect of the victim of a robbery by two jews but a gentile, someone thought to be outside of God’s covenant, displayed mercy.
There at Gitmo, the ones that are labeled as worthless and evil were imprisoned for suspicion of involvement with terrorist attacks. Truly, these were the least of society. I don’t recall Jesus ever kicking someone while they were down. Instead, I saw him reach across religious practices and demonstrate God’s love to a widower, a paralytic, and someone with a bloody discharge.
Neither should we allow political or our own biases prevent us from works of mercy. This kind of behavior actually leads us to be condemned (Matt. 25). Instead, great is our reward when we’re ambassadors of love to the world. This is how the world knows we’re set apart and not conformed to its patterns.
In sum, Camp X-Ray is a very important film that conveys the necessity of grace. Grace changes a hardened heart into one inclined for love. It also opens the door to true reconciliation with our neighbor. These two indispensable lessons are what we desperately need in our current time of division and turmoil.
Photo: Beth Dubber/GNK Productions
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