The Virginia Tech Tragedy and Islam?

The Virginia Tech Tragedy and Islam?

by Sheila Musaji

When the tragedy at Virginia Tech was unfolding on the news, many American Muslims prayed for the victims and their families and for all of those who were affected by the tragedy.  Like most Americans they gave their condolences to the victims families, watched the news unfold in horror, and wondered what it would be like to receive a phone call like these families telling you that your loved one has died by such a senseless act of violence.  American Muslims like everyone else wondered what could provoke such an action, and like everyone else felt a little less secure in the realization that random violence can strike anywhere at any time.

American Muslims also prayed “please God, don’t let this be a Muslim”.  This has been our reaction to almost any incident over the last few years.  When the announcement was made that the perpetrator was a Korean, a common reaction was a sense of relief that at least it was not a Muslim who had done this terrible thing.  The relief was because our experience has been that any criminal act carried out by anyone who happens to be a Muslim will be connected with the religion of Islam and not to the distorted view of the perpetrator, and we as Muslim individuals and communities will be asked to explain, speak out against, or apologize for whatever has happened. 

Yesterday afternoon I was listening to Bill O’Reilly in my car and he said in response to the concern of an Asian caller about possible backlash against Asian-Americans or Korean-Americans that he felt that concern was unfounded because “there has been no violence against Muslim Americans in the wake of 9/11.” 

Then, last night when driving home from an interfaith meeting The Savage Nation was on the radio.  Someone filling in for Michael Savage was talking about the Virginia Tech shootings and was listing a series of questions that needed to be asked including the “Ismail Ax” reference, and whether there might be a connection between the shooting and the fact that his family had lived in Saudi Arabia for some time. 

Bill O’ Reilly’s comment is simply another attempt to deny the very real violence that has been perpetrated against the American Muslim community in the wake of 9/11.  Mosques have been vandalized, shot at, had cars driven into them, been firebombed and burned down.  There have been many incidents of assaults, civil rights violations, discrimination, vandalism, and even murder of American Muslims and Arabs.  Sikhs have been attacked and killed because someone thought they were Muslims.  And,  last month an Arab Christian church was burned - right here in the U.S.  But for the bigots, Muslims can only be seen as the perpetrators of violence, not the victims, and certainly not regular Americans like everyone else.

The Savage Nation comment is simply the latest in a rash of absurd attempts to make a tenuous connection with Islam and to justify anti-Muslim rants.  As soon as the press identified the killer as ‘Asian’ one pundit went so far as to speculate that it was probably a ‘Pakistani Muslim’, and even used the disparaging term ‘Paki’.  Cho’s video has been called a ‘religious martyrdom’ video.  An article entitled “Suicide and Islam: Connection to the Slayings” manages to work in the ‘fact’ that:  “But make no mistake about it. We have a real problem in this country and it is the fear of saying what we know to be true. Islam and Islamic law is the evil ideology of our day seeking our destruction and it is the Muslim, either as the Shari’a faithful or the potential Shari’a faithful who represent the army of enemy combatants we will face on any given day.” The meaning of “Ismail Ax” written on the killers arm caused wild speculation about an ‘Islamic’ connection.  One particularly vicious pundit declared in a rambling diatribe:  “Hui may have been deemed mentally challenged and a danger to himself and others but that simply doesn’t preclude the notion that this mentally ill individual wasn’t emboldened by the ideas of terrorism or by the influences of fundamentalist Islam.”

Of course, Pamela Geller, the Queen of the Islamophobes picked up on this non-existent Muslim connection in an article Ismail Ax and the Prophet Moe with the lede “Release the damn transcripts. Enough with the cover up. Don’t the dead and America, a country at war, deserve to know was is really happening? As I wrote here previously, we know Ismail Ax was written in red (color of blood) on his arm, we know he signed his suicide note Ismail Ax and sent an overnight package to NBC from A Ishmail, he made sure he had no other ID on his person after he martyred himself so you can be sure he wanted to be remembered as Ismail Ax. This is in and of itself very telling. Shaving his head and from what I can see in his pictures and martyr video- his body (that’s what they do - remember the 9/11 hijackers?) , must have added to law enforcement’s suspicions, which is why it so damning that they would say so early on that horrible day that “it was not tied to terrorism.”  And, she comments The tie-in is carefully explained at Prophet of Doom here. It’s lengthy - read it. I’ve excerpted here. “Every aspect of Cho’s rage, every nuance of his twisted and inverted morality, was lifted from the pages of Islam.”   Geller never did post an apology or a correction.

Charles Krauthammer said “What you can say, just—not as a psychiatrist, but as somebody who’s lived through the a past seven or eight years, is that if you look at that picture, it draws its inspiration from the manifestos, the iconic photographs of the Islamic suicide bombers over the last half decade in Palestine, in Iraq and elsewhere.  That’s what they end up leaving behind, either on al Jazeera or Palestinian TV. And he, it seems, as if his inspiration for leaving the message behind in that way, might have been this kind of suicide attack, which, of course, his was. And he did leave the return address return “Ismail Ax.” “Ismail Ax.” I suspect it has some more to do with Islamic terror and the inspiration than it does with the opening line of Moby Dick.”


The father of the Virginia Tech shooter worked in Saudi Arabia before he married and earned enough money to buy a business back in Korea.  The supposed ‘similarity’ between Cho’s video and statements to some statements made by al Qaeda people ignores the fact that Cho also referred to Christian beliefs - “I die like Jesus Christ to inspire generations of defenseless people…”  “Do you know what it feels like to be impaled upon a cross”.  Muslims don’t believe that Jesus died on the cross.  All of the supposed ‘connections’ with Islam or Muslims are nothing more than the ridiculous ramblings of bigots.

This need to connect any violent act in some way with Islam or Muslims is becoming a mental sickness in some quarters, and is being noticed all over the world.  This heartbreaking tragedy at Virginia Tech raises a number of legitimate issues for us to consider as a society, e.g.: 1) should we improve our system of reporting and documenting individals with mental health problems in a data base accessible when an individual wants to purchase a weapon or take a job dealing with the public; 2) what are the issues within our society that lead so many to lash out violently; 3) should any university allow a student who has been diagnosed as a danger to themselves or others to live in a dormitory on campus or to attend classes,  4) should we have stricter regulations, or longer waiting periods for obtaining guns, etc.  The questions that need to be answered are the same whatever the ethnic, religious, or racial background of the perpetrator.

Violent crime is increasing in the U.S.  There have been numerous incidents of violence at schools and at colleges and universities, as well as public areas like malls.

These acts have been carried out by individuals from many religious backgrounds (or with no religion) and from many ethnic and socio-economic groups.  There is no single indicator except that we as a society have a problem with an increasing number of people who see violence against themselves and/or others as a solution to their problems.

We have a problem - Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, immigrants, rich, poor, educated, ....  We have a problem and if we are to find a solution we will need to first analyze the problem and try to understand where this violence is coming from.  The problem is not with any particular religious, ethnic, or racial group as the violence cuts across all of these lines.

If we are to have any chance of solving this very real problem we need to stop wasting time pointing fingers of blame at superficial characteristics of the perpetrators based on nothing more than prejudice, stereotyping, and a tendency to look for easy answers.  All this does is take time and energy away from actually looking for solutions, and in the process we should be concerned with right now of helping the victims families.

Banning black trenchcoats as some schools did after Columbine won’t solve anything, neither will attempting to make one community a scapegoat for all of the ills of our society.  Assuming that every Muslim, or every Korean, or every (fill in the blank) is somehow responsible for a particular action committed by someone belonging to their group, or can explain what goes on in a sick mind, or should apologize for something they had no control over is bigotry.  Now, I am praying that the Asian and Korean communities don’t experience this same bigotry. 

UPDATE 6/12/2009

Loonwatch has published an article on another Islamophobe, Debbie Schlussel and notes:

...  As Goldstein points out this isn’t the first time that Schlussel has supposedly “uncovered” a so called nefarious Muslim plot against the West — it is a trademark of her paranoid writing. When the Virginia Tech Massacre occurred, the police told the press that the shooter was an “Asian male” Schlussel was quick to tie it to Muslims, saying in a racist screed that “Pakis are considered ‘Asian,’” and that it could be “part of a co-ordinated terrorist plot by Pakistanis.”

Later when it was revealed that the shooter was a student of Korean background and that he authored a play titled Ismail Ax, she continued to attempt to tie the massacre to Muslims, insisting that the Muslim sounding name of Ismail in the play penned by the murderer was enough to conclude that he was a “secret” Muslim and that Islam was to blame.

Needless to say this was rejected by the police as it was obvious that the murderer had no ties to Islam or Muslims. Even more egregious, the ironic fact lost on Schlussel that Muslims died in the massacre.