Wonky Muse
Wonky Muse

April 18, 2007

Ismail Ax and a Killer's Manifesto

On the package that Virginia Tech killer Cho Seung-hui sent to NBC, the mailing label showed the name "A. Ishmael" on the return address. A possible wordplay on the phrase "Ismail Ax", which was reportedly found written on his arm and was the subject of much speculation.

Some right wingers were quick to make an Islamic connection to fit their racist worldview and their continuous efforts to incite xenophobic hysteria. Yet Cho's multimedia manifesto sent to NBC seems to debunk this. In the video clips he said:

You have vandalized my heart, raped my soul and torched my conscience. You thought it was one pathetic boy’s life you were extinguishing. Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and the defenseless people.

Do you know what it feels like to be humiliated and be impaled upon on a cross? And left to bleed to death for your amusement? You have never felt a single ounce of pain your whole life. Did you want to inject as much misery in our lives as you can just because you can?

You had everything you wanted. Your Mercedes wasn’t enough, you brats. Your golden necklaces weren’t enough, you snobs. Your trust fund wasn’t enough. Your vodka and Cognac weren’t enough. All your debaucheries weren’t enough. Those weren’t enough to fulfill your hedonistic needs. You had everything.
So Cho saw himself as a martyr, like Jesus Christ. He railed against the privileged and what he perceived as injustice towards the "weak and the defenseless". He also mentioned "martyrs like Eric and Dylan", a reference to killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of the Columbine High School massacre which incidentally happened six years ago this week.

This could be related to Cho growing up in abject poverty in South Korea until moving to the United States when he was eight years old. We don't know that for sure, but one thing is clear: no mention of Islam or the Koran. Doesn't sound like a deranged Islamic fanatic to me.

So what's the significance of the name "A. Ishmael" or the phrase "Ismail Ax"? Considering that Cho was an English major, it may be literary instead of religious, a reference to the novel Ishmael or In the Depths by E.D.E.N. Southworth (1819-1899), as pointed out by Boing Boing reader Daniel J. Geduld who also noted this description of the book:

"E.D.E.N. Southworth considers Ishmael to be her very best work, being founded on the life of one of the noblest of our countrymen who really lived, suffered, toiled, and triumphed in this land. Its inspirations of wisdom and goodness were drawn from the examples of heroic warriors and statesmen of the Revolution. Ishmael—born in the depths of poverty, misery, and humiliation and raised to the summit of fame—was good as well as great. His life is proof that there is no depth of human misery from which we may not, by virtue, energy, and perseverance, rise to earthly honors, and by God's grace, attain eternal glory."
In his twisted logic, Cho may have seen himself as a modern Ishmael who, from poverty and humiliation, will rise to fame (infamy, actually) bybeing the champion/avenger of the underdogs. As for the ax, Geldud also pointed out to a significant excerpt from the book:

Hannah arose and followed Gray to the door, and there before it stood Ishmael, chopping away at random, upon the pile of wood, his cheeks flushed with fever and his eyes wild with excitement.

"Hannah, he is ill; he is very ill; he doesn't well know what he is about," said Reuben, taking the ax from the boy's hand.

"Ishmael, Ishmael, my lad, come in; you are not well enough to work," said Hannah anxiously.

Ishmael yielded up the ax and suffered Reuben to draw him into the house.

"It is only that I am so hot and dizzy and weak, Mr. Middleton; but I am sure I shall be able to do it presently," said Ishmael apologetically, as he put his hand to his head and looked around himself in perplexity.
Full text of the novel can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

This is only speculation, of course. There really is no explaining the rantings of a disturbed mind, but this theory makes more sense to me than the ridiculous insistence by right wingers that Cho was an Islamic fanatic.

Full MSNBC coverage on Cho's multimedia manifesto can be found here.

Latest info on the Virginia Tech murders at Wikipedia.

Photos and info on the known victims here.

Related post(s):

Breaking: VA Tech Shooter Sent Package to NBC

posted at 7:40 PM by Wonky Muse

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"Sapere Aude."
(Dare to Know)
-- Epistularum Liber Primus, Horace

Wonk (noun): def. A political nerd. Know spelled backwards.

Wonky Muse is the other Filipino American female political blogger. The sane, liberal one.


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