April 18, 2007
Ismail Ax and a Killer's ManifestoOn 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.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.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.
Breaking: VA Tech Shooter Sent Package to NBC
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