Those cryptic words were tattooed on the arms of one Cho Seung-Hui, now known as the most prolific serial shooter in this country’s history after the mass murder of 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech two days ago.
Theories abound as to the meaning of this phrase. Here are but a few…
- It seems that “Ismail” is another spelling for the name “Ishmael”. As for the ax, this site tells of “Ibrahim” (Abraham, Ishmael’s father) using an “ax” to destroy the idols in his home town. This is just pure speculation, and I’m not pushing it at this point, but “Ismail ax” might represent a personal mission to destroy the “idolatry” of the western culture, in the name of Islam. That could fit with the note he left behind.
- Also found a reference to a man who died in 2005 named Ismail Merchant. He was a film producer/director who was honored with an award at the 2006 AX awards, an awards program honoring Asians. Probably doesn’t have anything to do with this, but since the shooter was Korean, thought it was worth looking at…
- In James Fennimore Cooper’s story “The Prairie,” the settler Ishmael Bush, who is attempting to escape from civilization, sets out across the prairie with two key tools, a gun and an axe. Each has a symbolic meaning. The axe – which can either kill or provide shelter – stands for both creation and destruction. Given that the VT killer was an English major, might this be the likely meaning of the words on his arm?
- Some blogs have reported he may have been a member of the “Yamaguchi-Gumi Yakuza” gang, as that Japanese gang has ties with Korea. One of the gang’s honorary members, who had been gunned down in the past, had that same “Ismail Ax” written on one of his arms and in red ink, as well. The kid-shooter at Virginia Tech, however, was only a coward, as he planned his rampage so as to confront no one prepared for his arrival.
- Is mai lax = is my luck
And so the search continues as to the hidden meaning behind the words. We may never know what was going on in this twisted young man’s mind.