“Ismail Ax”?

Posted by: ST on April 17, 2007 at 8:49 pm

In reporting on the killer of 32 innocent people on the campus of VTech, several news outlets have noted that the words “Ismail Ax” were written on the inside of one of Cho’s arms. That led to a massive wave of Internet searches for what it could possibly mean, as the Chicago Tribune reports:

At Technorati.com, a Web site that tracks more than 71 million blogs, only 30 blog posts were up about “Ismail Ax” before noon Central Standard Time. That was shortly after the first few news stories that cited the term were posted. By 3:45 CST, there were 202 blog posts regarding the term.

Additionally, the term was not in Technorati’s top search terms at noon, but by 2.30, it reached No 10.

As the public sought news from Virginia Tech, many turned to the Web sites of news organizations. The Chicago Tribune’s Web site, for instance, recorded more than 524,000 page views during the afternoon’s first hour, the busiest pace in the site’s history.

But it was the speculation of what Ismail Ax meant that sent the Internet into a particular frenzy on Tuesday.

One popular theory, mentioned at many sites, speculated that the phrase comes from a story in the Quran, the holy book of Islam, about Ibrahim and his son, Ismail. In the Muslim religion, Ibrahim is known as 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.

Another theory comes from literature. The name Ismail could be a variant of the narrator from Moby Dick, spelled Ishmael. Literary historians consider Ishmael 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.

The NYPost examines “Ismail Ax” theories, too:

The reference may be to the Islamic account of the Biblical sacrifice of Abraham, where God commands the patriarch to sacrifice his own son. Abraham begins to comply, but God intervenes at the last moment to save the boy.

In the Jewish and Christian traditions, the son is Isaac, father of the Jewish people; in Islam, it is his brother, Ismail (Ishmael in Hebrew).

Abraham uses a knife in most versions of the story, but some accounts have him wielding an ax.

A more obscure reference may be to a passage in the Koran referring to Abraham’s destruction of pagan idols; in some accounts, he uses an ax to do so.


Is there an Islamofascism connection here, or is it just coincidence?

Anyone out there have any insight as to what “Ismail Ax” could mean?

Hat tip to Atlas Shrugs, who is on the case and has more, including what looks like a Flickr photo of Cho Seung-Hui. Sweetness and Light is blogging about this, also.

Update: Paul at Wizbang thinks it was supposed to be Ismail YK, a Turkish singer. Perhaps … Also, Kim at Wizbang posts a flashback video of the daughter of a man and woman killed in the Luby’s Cafeteria massacre, which happened back in Texas in 1991. The woman’s name is Suzanne Hupp, and she testified in 1993 that she wasn’t mad at the perp, but at the lawmakers who pass such tight gun control laws that people aren’t even allowed to use one to defend themselves in public places. Watch it here.

Related: Gina Cobb offers her thoughts on how to try and prevent the next mass killing.

John Hawkins believes that we’re never going to get a satisfactory answer to the nagging question of “why” this happened.

Mary Katharine Ham blogs about more heros from yesterday’s massacre, as does Tammy Bruce.

— Curt at Flopping Aces remembers the victims.

— Jeralyn Merrit at Talk Left thankfully isn’t falling for the “we need more gun control!” arguments. And surprisingly neither is, as she notes, Senator Harry Reid.

Bob Leibowitz wonders if Virginia Tech is education’s 9/11, and also writes about how he feels schools need to stop teaching kids to be “good victims” and instead show them how to fight back. Some interesting food for thought there. Read related thoughts on fighting back via Dafydd at Big Lizards.

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28 Responses to ““Ismail Ax”?”


  1. Leslie Trumpower says:

    ISMail is a mail server for Windows 98/ME/NT/2000/XP/2003

  2. Mwalimu Daudi says:

    ST, this may be too far off-topic for this thread…

    We are fresh off of the Duke case. John Leo has a good article about that little bit of MSM-driven fraud.

    Watching all of the anti-gun hysteria I see developing among MSM “journalists” and the Democrat Party over the shootings, I have to wonder – are we seeing a repeat of the MSM’s behavior like we saw in the Duke case? Will the MSM play down the facts of the case in favor of its hard-left political agenda? Severian has some good information on the state of gun laws in Virginia.

  3. Drewsmom says:

    Heard this on Savage Nation radio but have not heard it on Fox, cnn or msnbc.
    I hope we hear more on what this means.

  4. Chris says:

    Must be a slow news week if this is all the world can obsess about! Who gives a damn!

  5. boeddi says:

    … “ismail ax = ismailax = is mai lax = is my luck” … written in red for a korean? that’s bad luck? …

  6. ibfamous says:

    funny how you gloss over the christian reference. what will you do if it turns out he was an evangelical? what will you do if it turns out to be a reference to an Appleby’s menu item? give your crusade a rest until you have some fact.

  7. melvillefan says:

    For what it’s worth:
    My first thought about Ismail Ax as soon as I heard the phrase was not just Ishmael from Moby-Dick but the gruesome true story that lies behind some of the novel’s episodes, about the Globe whaleship mutiny. A crazy mate, Samuel Comstock, slaughtered his captain and others with an ax, saying, “I am the bloody man, I have the bloody hand”. Eventually almost all shipmembers died [it’s complicated]. The Globe mutiny is a haunting story. So maybe some combination of these elements was stirring around in Cho’s mind — Ishmael/Ismail as outcast, the murdering ax as retribution.

  8. Crix Madine says:

    Ismail Ax was Cho’s screename in the online version of the game Counter Strike; his favorite game, you know the one where you run around and shoot people with various guns. He might of had a online life with more accolades than his real one, so that is what he wanted to be remembered as.

  9. LeftBrainFemale says:

    Okay, well, while the Islamic connection certainly was my first thought as well, I also read that Cho was an English Major and enjoyed downloading a lot of music. That led me to speculate that perhaps “Ismail Ax” was an anagram for something else. Ever heard of “Alias Mix”? In one instance, it means simply a mix of tunes from the Alias TV Series, but another meaning with regards to DSP (Digital Signal Processing) seems almost fitting of his “character”. From a site about DSP:

    An alias mix occurs when a signal is decimated, and if it’s center frequency is above the Nyquist frequency of the decimated sampling rate. For example, if a 100 Hz-wide signal is at a center frequency of 150 Hz (therefore spanning 100-200 Hz) and it is sampled at a 400 Hz rate, by decimating by a factor of 2, it now appears in the 0-100 Hz band at the resulting 200 Hz rate.

  10. bill says:

    Ishmael AX … it might just be that he was speaking of himself, as in the AX wielded by Ishmael. He saw himself as the instrument (AX) used by Ishmael in the destruction of the other idol statues. Would make sense in the guise that he was trying to do the same to his victims.

    Just saying, but Cho calling Harris and Klebold martyrs is kind of interesting, as is the ranting agsint Christians and America.

    Add the possessive — Ishmael’s AX

  11. G-unit says:

    I think its a double meaning. One being the biblical reference and the other simply letting people know that “I Sent MAIL American eXpress.” Foreigners sometimes call a delivery from the USPS Express Mail “coming American Express.”

  12. Severian says:

    The Ishmael Ax thing reminds me of the movie “Heathers.” In it, a teen couple start killing off obnoxious students, and in one case, they underlined passages in the victim’s copy of “Moby Dick” to make it seem like she was troubled and weird, particularly the word “Eskimo.” After the teens death, all the adults were desperately trying to assign some kind of meaning to the repeated underlining of “Eskimo” going into deep explanations about how it meant her soul was empty and cold like the vast arctic wastes, etc.

    Almost makes you wonder if this guy saw that film. The post event analyis is exactly the same as the film though, attempting to find some reason for something that probably has no reason other than the guy was completely stark raving nuts.

  13. GrayLoess says:

    (Father Ripper:)


    Heather Duke underlined a lot of things in this copy of “Moby Dick”, but I believe the word “Eskimo” underlined all by itself, is the key to understanding Heather’s pain.

    On the surface, Heather Duke was the vivacious young lady we all knew her to be. But her soul was in ANTARCTICA! Freezing with the knowledge of how fellow teenagers can be cruel, the way that parents can be unresponsive, and as she writes so eloquently in her suicide note, the way that life can SUCK!

    We’ll all miss Sherwood’s little Eskimo…Let’s just hope she’s rubbing noses with Jesus!!

  14. Severian says:

    That’s the quote GrayLoess. And it parodies the kind of self absorbed, overly self important kind of analysis that goes on after something like this, where a lot of idiots think they can get inside the mind of a completely psychotic lunatic and make sense of it. I understand the human need to try, but this is basically a lot of hubris, thinking you can ever see into or understand this kind of mind and assign some kind of rationality to it, or worse, as many are doing now, trying to shift the blame to someone other than the nutjob himself, like “society” or “environment” or something, usually conservative, that set him off.

    Most conservative seem to have no problem with the simple analysis that “he was nuts” but it seems liberals seem to feel the need to shift the blame to other and overly analyze this. Nuance I guess. 8-|

  15. youssef says:

    The killer was a Christian or at least inspired by Jesus.


    From BBC News:

    “In his video, Cho says: “You have vandalised my heart, raped my soul and tortured my conscience. You thought it was one pathetic more life you were extinguishing. Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ to inspire generations of the weak and the defenceless people.””

  16. mysteryj man c... says:

    ismail ax.. the A is captiolized meaning its symbolizing somehting more than just a “ax”. some seem to beileve it means “is my luck” yet this could have meant tons of different things, yet somehow i lean over to realigous vows of some sort i think this is coming from he realigion maybe troubled and picked on as a kid. as i read the articles and such it seems people bullied him alot. ismail ax is a metaphor for somethign such as “die” or “death”.


  17. Andrew says:

    Just a few interesting facts. The gunman had the word Ismail AX written on his arm. If you read the plays that the gunman had written one was called ‘Mr Brownstone’ which is a name of a Gun’n’Roses song. Also the fact that Axl Rose (lead singer of Guns’n’roses was molested by his father and stepfather and the stark similarities between the gunmans wikipedia review and Axle Rose shows that this was his idol. Also axle rose was a voice over on the game grand theft auto (the game that you go on shoot em up rampages) is a little weird. According to the psycho’s manifesto quote “I didn’t have to do this. I could have left. I could have fled. But no, I will no longer run. It’s not for me. For my children, for my brothers and sisters that you fucked, I did it for them… When the time came, I did it. I had to.” The message in this text is very identical to the lyrics of the song “I will not go quietly” by Don Henley and axl Rose. Coincidence?

  18. Salahudin says:

    This has NOTHING to do with Islam!!!

    Cho’s manifesto that he sent to MSNBC proves it.



  19. Jai says:

    I thought it might be a misinterpretation of a part of “Bohemian rapsody.” Bismillah kind of sounds like Ismail Ax.

  20. Danny says:

    Interesting to hear the Axl Rose reference although I seriously doubt Cho saw him as an idol. I don’t know, it’s hard to see a Korean looking up to an American rockstar. But, what makes sense is “Ismail Ax” can be an anargram, just like Axl Rose is an anagram for oral sex. So, yeah, if thats so that maybe it really is an anagram, or maybe he wrote nonsense on his arm so people like us can spend the rest of their life tyring to figure out. LOL, someone here said it could be a reference to an item on Applebys menu. Priceless.

  21. Ani says:

    Looking at all your theories, I have to wonder if many aren’t looking way too much into this. First of all, why does everyone automatically associate terrorism with Islam? It does not need to be a Muslim perpetrator for it to be a terror attack. If it’s an act that provokes terror, it’s terrorism; it’s as simple as that. Yes, Ismail is the Muslim spelling of Ishmael, but I’m still not leaning to a religious meaning. So far, the two theories I may see something in are the Axl Rose connection and G-Unit’s theory about the mail. Maybe that was a clue (just to get ppl racking their brains, just as we are doing) to say he had sent the items that he sent (to NBC). Then again, one never knows. Need more details.

    However, if the majority of folks weren’t such ignorant, self-centered, conceited, and cruel assholes, people wouldn’t have to worry about someone building up all this anger and hatred inside and eventually committing such a tragedy. I am in no way condoning these acts, but rather, simply pointing out that if you look at all such attacks, something has provoked these people. And if you look at all the wonderful (*sarcasm*) qualities that I just mentioned, which many people in this country seem to possess, you will understand what I’m trying to say. Will people ever learn?? Just have some respect for others. You could always adopt my philosophy in life: we are all equal. Even if you have something better than someone else, you must remember that they also have something better than you. Instead of poking fun at, criticizing, or judging someone who’s different, it’s much more beneficial to learn from them and get to know them. You might even make a new friend (unless, of course, you’re part of some bitchy clique). It’s just sad and disappointing that such a negative lesson had to be given by this guy. As I stated before, I do not condone these acts; I’m simply explaining why things happen as they do (I haven’t experienced such treatment firsthand, but I’ve seen it and bullied the bullies). Finally, my heart goes out to all the victims and their families, and they are in my thoughts/ prayers.

  22. concerned Filipino says:

    To Bill: “Ranting agsint (sic) Christianity and America” Where? What he actually said was “Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ to inspire generations of the weak and the defenceless people.” This would seem to show that he actually likes Chritianity. As for his actual religion, from what I’ve read, he must have been Buddhist like most Koreans. In his letter, he expresses his dislike for the religion he was born in and makes several references to Christianity, thus implying that he prefers Christianity.

    So, stop pushing your agenda and follow tha facts, okay?

    By the way, I’m Christian myself. And because I am, I hate it when people twist the facts to conveniently suit their purpose.

  23. Ani: “First of all, why does everyone automatically associate terrorism with Islam?”

    ST: This should help you understand.

  24. Baklava says:

    um.. “Kill the infidel”.

    It’s NOT a matter of respecting people Ani. It’s a matter of you converting or dying.

    Not to worry. We’ll save you from having to wear the burka. Because why? Because we are a compassionate and free people (not saying everyone here is compassionate) but by and large we give more as a nation in every category.

    We even spend more on “climate change” than any other nation. Our federal budget has spent $3 billion per year for the last few years on climate change (more than any other country did I say) yet callous negligent liberals act like we are doing NOTHING and that Bush is doing NOTHING.

    Liberals lie and lead us to tyranny.

    And I was a liberal pre-1991. Sorry my words are so blunt…

  25. Will M. says:

    Ishmael Ax = 9 digits, spelling the number 11
    becoming the reference to 911 ( and so on )

    Read this blog for more information >