We know that his name was Cho Seung-Hui, and that he was 23 and from South Korea. We know he was an English major who wrote “Richard McBeef,” a psychotically violent play. We know many other details of what he did, but we know little or nothing of why.
And then there is the writing on his arm. “Sources: Virginia Tech gunman left note,” by Aamer Madhani in the Chicago Tribune, says this:
The note included a rambling list of grievances, according to sources. They said Cho also died with the words “Ismail Ax” in red ink on one of his arms.
And “‘Question Mark’ Killer Quietly Seethed With Rage” from FoxNews speculates about what it might mean:
He apparently had scrawled the words “ISMAIL AX” on the inside of one arm, according to the Chicago Tribune, which may be a reference to the Islamic account of the Biblical sacrifice of Abraham.
Maybe it is. Or maybe, as someone wrote in to Hot Air, it has something to do with a James Fenimore Cooper short story. I just got off an airplane and found about 50 emails in my inbox telling me about “Ismail Ax,” speculating about what it means, asking me what it means, telling me what it means. The speculation is wide-ranging and imaginative.
One thing I know for certain: I don’t know what it meant to Cho Seung-Hui, and neither does anyone else. I am writing this post now because some people are seizing upon “Ismail Ax” as evidence that Cho was a lone mujahid, like Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar. But writing a cryptic phrase on one’s arm and then going to kill people does not make someone a jihadist. If he wanted to convey by this that he was engaging in jihad killings, he could have written “Allahu akbar” or any number of other phrases that would have been clearer. There is no evidence that Cho Seung-Hui was a jihadist, or anything but a seriously disturbed individual.
Meanwhile, I have also received messages condemning me for my “rush to judgment” and calling on me to retract. Yet the only post about these shootings before this one is here. In it, I highlight the fact that police said that there was no evidence that it was a terrorist attack. And that the name of the shooter was not yet released. Where exactly is the “rush to judgment,” and what should I retract? Some commenters went farther, but comments are unmoderated, and some other commenters took them to task for doing so. If there was any rush to judgment, it wasn’t me rushing, but some others were ready to: last night I looked around at some other sites to see what they were saying about these shootings, and I found several Muslims discussing how they would deal with the “sh*t storm” if the shooter turned out to be a Muslim.
They didn’t speculate about what they or others would do if the shooter turned out to be a crazed white supremacist, or one of those violent Christians we keep hearing so many hypotheticals about, or a deranged South Korean English major, because while individuals can do anything there are no large groups or recurring incidents involving such people. But they did speculate about what they would do if he turned out to be a jihadist, because jihadists commit acts of violence in the name of Islam every day. None of them, despite their protestations that Islam is a religion of peace, would have been surprised if the killer had been a mujahid.
I found that fascinating. They didn’t have any trouble discussing the possibility that the killer might have been a Muslim, because they know, as does everyone, that there are jihadists who would like to carry out this kind of attack, and may do so someday. That points up once again the fact that while Islamic spokesmen in the U.S. are ready to deal with “sh*t storms” after jihad attacks, they are doing little or nothing within Muslim communities to prevent such attacks from happening — by teaching against the jihad ideology and Islamic supremacism. There is no program teaching against the idea of jihad violence in American mosques — not from CAIR or MPAC or any of the other groups who profess to abhor it. There are programs, like MPAC’s, that seem more interested in protecting Muslims from the FBI rather than in protecting us all from jihadists, and that’s about it.
And that is ultimately one of the principal lessons of this horrific episode at Virginia Tech: these attacks could happen any time, there is little or nothing to prevent them from happening on college campuses or in other crowded public spaces, and little or nothing is being done about that, although there are many things that can, and should, be done about it.