The Meaning of “Ismail Ax”

April 18, 2007

These words reportedly were written on the arm of Cho Seung-Hui when he was found dead, and the blogs are full of speculation about their meaning. One popular theory links this to a story in the Koran but others caution against being so quick to leap to a terrorism connection.

Here’s the Koran bit, as written up by the Chicago Tribune.

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.

This seems to fit in substantively with other things we know about Cho. He wrote a note found in his dorm room about how he hated rich kids and debauchery, things akin to the idolatry that Ibrahim lashed out at. The letter also discussed religion:

A law enforcement official says the letter written by 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui was a typed, eight-page rant against rich kids and religion. …

The official said Cho indicated in his letter that the end was near and that there was a deed to be done. He also expressed disappointment in his own religion, and made several references to Christianity.

Violent clashes between the young and old also figure prominently in Cho’s two plays.

The plays, though, are very poorly written and indicate this guy was pretty bonkers, rather than intelligent. Maybe the words are just the random scribbling of a madman and everyone is over-analyzing this. It’s natural to want to find out that this had some meaning and that Cho didn’t just go out and kill tons of people without a coherent idea in his head of why he was acting as he did.