Pointing Fingers

It has been interesting to watch reactions to the revelation that the Virginia Tech gunman was a 23-year-old creative writing student of South Korean descent by the name of Cho Seung-Hui. People of every other ethnic group breathed a sigh of relief that the murderer was not one of their own. Andrew Lam captured this feeling perfectly in his column for New American Media. Here is an excerpt:

Before the news identified the killer as Cho Seung-hui, a 23-year-old English major from South Korea, all ethnic backgrounds were up for grabs. A Chinese friend from a small college town on the East Coast called to say: “Please, please let it be some other Asian. We’ll be in deep if it’s Chinese.”

In a popular Vietnamese chatroom, Vietnamese college students were writing to each other to speculate. One said, “I have a bad feeling. It might be Mi’t (Vietnamese slang for Vietnamese).” Others wrote in advising each other on what to do if it was.(…)

Let it be some other Asian! This was the prayer among so many Asian-American communities. And not just Asians.

“Every time there’s an incident like this, every ethnic group is on pins and needles,” said Khalil Abdullah, an African-American colleague. An Anglo shooter may be an individual, a loner, but God forbid if a person of color goes on a shooting rampage. His whole tribe would be implicated. “I still recall my aunts when President Kennedy was assassinated. They were praying that it wasn’t a Negro.” Many ethnic communities do not feel that they belong to the core of the American fabric, Abdullah added. “The action of an individual can cancel out the good image of an entire group.”

The focus on the murderer’s background was not restricted to his nationality; there was also the religious angle. The New York Post quickly speculated that the words “Ismail Ax,” which were scrawled on the gunman’s arm, were a reference to the Qur’anic account of Abraham’s sacrifice of Ismail, or possibly also to Abraham’s destruction of pagan idols, also in the Qur’anic tradition. The fact that the document sent by Cho to NBC contained such bizarre claims as “Thanks to you I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and the defenseless people” did not seem to merit the kind of religious exegesis that the New York Post was so keen on doing earlier in the week. People look for intrinsic reasons for Cho’s acts, when the simpler explanation–to the extent that such a horrendous act can ever be explained–is that Cho was a mentally ill young man, who should never have had access to guns.

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