Friday, April 20, 2007
If only he'd been a Muslim. posted by Richard SeymourSome of the American conservatives are irate at what they perceive to be a mainstream media conspiracy to deny Cho Seung-Hui's Islamic connections. You see, if the massacre could be Islammed-up a bit, then it could be described as a 'suicide attack', and a deliberate signal to evildoers all over the world as to what easy prey American youths are. Initially, it was revealed that Cho was an 'Asian' of some kind, and with the customary alacrity, neoconservative and fascist commentators in the media and through the blogosphere thought of the i-word. Then it was revealed that the phrase 'Ismail Ax' was scrawled on his body (although his package to NBC had 'A. Ishmael' written on it), and all hell broke loose on the farm. Doesn't the name alone connect him to something it says in Islam? Doesn't it relate to some Quranic tale or some disagreement Muslims have with Christianity? Why, the evidence is crystal-clear: "[Muslims] believe that Abraham was supposed to go out and attack idols with an axe, and some also attribute the phrase to meaning that Ishmael was supposed to kill Isaac, the father of all Western culture, with an axe. Cho was a South Korean immigrant to the US, but it seems undeniable that his killing spree, at least in part, was motivated by some sort of belief in Islam."
Well, let's look at Cho's statements and see if we can't find some clues in there:
You have vandalized my heart, raped my soul and torched my conscience. You thought it was one pathetic boy’s life you were extinguishing. Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and the defenseless people.
Do you know what it feels like to be humiliated and be impaled upon on a cross? And left to bleed to death for your amusement? [source]
Did you notice that, right there? Christ and crucifixion, dreams of immortality, hopelessly muddled references to some wider ramifications of the killings. Never mind that, however, and never mind that he chose to commit a crime that is perpetrated by and on Americans every year: it must be energetically removed from that context. Korean-Americans are warned to expect a backlash. Predictably, there has been a great deal of attention to the fact that he was 'Asian' (not Korean, not American, not South-East Asian - Asian, with all its civilisational overtones), and no doubt we can expect the usual sub-anthropological curiosity about 'Asian culture' rather soon. Pat Buchanan has decried 'multiculturalism' as usual, even while noting the all-American pedigree of the crime.
This is all the expected editorial bilge from the right, an effort to override the obvious and elementary considerations that the gun industry should be in some way restrained; that American institutions, especially educational institutions, have to look at how they treat non-white students; that this wave of attacks on school students, whether from adults taking an easy target before killing themselves, or from other students, gives the lie to the myths of comfort, privilege and comity that Americans are encouraged to feel are uniquely their possession. One can't help noticing that it is only after these repeated 'tragedies' (is that the appropriate word?), that this sense of 'community' is materialised in America, either with candle-lit gatherings, emotional sermons or mere politeness on New York streets, as attested to following the carnage in 2001. Every other day is fuck-you day, is it not? America is not unique in that aspect, but it is unique in its emphasis on competitive culture, on the wonders of creative destruction and disintegration. Only by perpetually retooling 'national identity' around war and empire are the inevitably breakdowns, violence, and mayhem temporarily and partially overcome: in a martial America, the class-supremacist and racist aspect of nationalism is subordinated to the primary need to Kick The Other Guy's Ass, whether it is the gook today or Muhammed himself tomorrow. (Of course, as the 'refugees' discovered after Katrina, the 'national' purview cannot be so easily disburdened of its raciological contaminants). Only through the imaginary collective experience of the frontier, and of death, is the individual refused into the social matrix, not as part of a society - nothing so Bolshevik - but as part of a shared national experience known as 'community', (a distinction with its roots in German Kriegsideologie). Since today that 'community' is defined almost primarily by the fact that it ain't Islam (never mind that Muslims are the second largest religious group in America), the cri de coeur of American reactionaries today is that 'there must be an Islamic connection'.