Apr 18 2007
The enigma of “Ismail’s Ax”, scrawled on the arm of the killer responsible for the deaths of 32 people at VA Tech is rapidly turning into a stubborn puzzle. The Chicago Tribune has this to report on their search for a possible meaning to the phrase:
One theory spreading across the Web speculates that it comes from a story in the Quran, the holy book of Islam, about Ibrahim and his son, Ismail.
In Islam, Ibrahim is the father of the prophets and, upset that people in his hometown still worshiped idols and not Allah, he smashed all but one statue in a local temple with an ax. Ibrahim’s son is Ismail, who also became a prophet. Ibrahim is Arabic for Abraham, who plays a significant role in Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
In James Fenimore Cooper’s novel “The Prairie,” Ishmael Bush is known as an outcast and outlawed warrior, according to an essay written in 1969 by William Goetzmann, a University of Texas history professor. In Cooper’s book, “Bush carries the prime symbol of evil — the spoiler’s ax,” the professor wrote.
Also, the narrator from “Moby Dick,” Ishmael, is considered an enigma who is well educated yet considers his time on a whaling ship worthy of time at Yale or Harvard, according to education site Sparknotes.com.
Other theories speculate that Ismail Ax could be a reference to Cho’s nickname on a video gaming site, or that it is a misspelling of Turkish hip-hop artist Ismail YK.
Cho was a business major turned English major – which may mean he was not really into literature but was simply searching for any degree he could walk away from school with. I get the feeling the super-recluse was not doing well in college where you have to open up much more in your junior and senior years. And business would not be a good fit for someone who refused to interact with people on any level. So let’s just say I would find the literary links possibly a bit out of character. He does have the tell tales of someone absorbed in video game virtual realities, so those would make sense before his being steeped in James Fenimore Cooper.
The question surrounding “Ismail’s Ax” is definitely creating a blogswarm and internet wave, as reported here:
All at once, the world went searching for the meaning of â€œIsmail Ax.â€
Those two words, written in red ink on one arm of Cho Seung Hui, the 23-year-old Virginia Tech student suspected of the campus shooting spree, set off a massive Internet hunt by the public Tuesday for clues to what might have motivated the nationâ€™s worst mass killings.
Almost as soon as the Chicago Tribuneâ€™s Web site reported that detail, which was then picked up by news organizations around the world, the blogosphere filled with theories about the possible meaning of â€œIsmail Ax.â€ Hundreds of bloggers speculated on a link to Islam or to literature; thousands offered their opinions and millions read the commentaries, according to Technorati.com.
he phrase was the 10th most popular search counted by Technorati. With two other terms related to the Virginia Tech killing in its top 10, that meant that millions of people got online and did a search of those or very similar words, said Derek Gordon, Technorati’s marketing director.
“To raise into the top 10, there are initially tens of thousands of searches, then hundreds of thousands, then millions,” Gordon said.
In an event which makes no sense to any of us, and which was of historic brutality and bloodshed the meaning of this phrase stands as a symbol of how hard it is and will be to unravel what Cho Seung-Hui was thinking when he planned and executed his rampage. And many of us searching are simply parents trying to understand what is out there and possibly ready to trap our own kids.