Western media link killer to Muslims

April 19, 2007


WASHINGTON, April 18: The US media did find an excuse to link the Virginia Tech killer to the Islamic history, claiming that he had words ‘Ismail Ax’ written on one of his arms.

It was the Fox News which first reported that Cho Seung Hui, the 23-year old South Korean student who killed 33 people at Virginia Tech University on Monday, had ‘Ismail Ax’ tattooed in red ink on the inside of one of his arms. But the news report received international attention only after the Chicago Tribune reported details, which were picked up by news organisations around the world.

Even newspapers like The Times of London and The Telegraph, usually careful in what they report, highlighted the supposed inscription on Cho’s body along with the speculation – also initiated by the US media – that he may have been a Muslim.Soon newspapers in such far off places as Australia and New Zealand were also reporting the theory along with opinions from so-called experts on Islam.

At Chicago Tribune, the report about “Ismail Ax” set off the busiest hour in the site's history, with 524,000 page views during the early Tuesday afternoon.

As millions of surfers took to the Web to search for the possible meaning of “Ismail Ax,” the blogosphere filled with wild theories about Cho’s alleged Islamic link.

Technorati.com, a Web site that tracks the blogosphere, reported that thousands of bloggers offered their opinions and millions read the commentaries.

Some pointed out that in Islamic lore Ismail is a reference to the “son of sacrifice.”

The bloggers than speculated that Cho might have been trying to deliver a similar message by killing other students.

Impressed by people’s interest in “Ismail Ax,” a TV repair shop owner in Corpus Christi, Texas, registered the domain name http://www.ismailax.com the morning after the shootings.

Some stories also mentioned that Cho had Muslim neighbours when he lived in Washington DC, suburb of Centreville. What most media reports and bloggers conveniently ignored is the explanation offered by the investigators.

According to the investigators, ISMail is a mail server for Windows 98/ME/NT/2000/XP/ 2003. Ax is a user name for ISP email accounts. ISMail accounts can store an unlimited number of messages, and send and receive messages of nearly any size. FBI confiscated information from the shooter’s computer and have not released its findings.

“If you read the killer’s profile, its clear he had absolutely nothing to do with Islam or Muslim,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American Islamic Relations. “Any attempt to link Islam or Muslims with this tragic incident should be rejected by all reasonable people,” he added.