Dark Matters of the Mind and Mad Men

In one week, Islam was given respectful media coverage as a great American was buried in Louisville and then blasted by some as the cause of the carnage in Orlando, Florida. The Orlando shooter was Asian American, an ethnic Afghani, born in New York and raised in United States. Some say he was angered at the sight of two men kissing. The shooter killed 49 people at a dance club during a Latin night, wounding 53 others.

Earlier this month, on the first of June, another Asian man, India-born Mainak Sarkar, killed first his wife in Minnesota and then drove to California and walked through the familiar halls of UCLA to kill his former professor, William Klug, his advisor for his doctoral dissertation.  Sarkar had accused his former professor of stealing code, but UCLA authorities found these charges to be without merit.

If you’ve never been a graduate student, then you might not have heard the horror stories of professors with unreasonable demands. My graduate degree at UCLA ended with a grudge match between professors as did my year at an English university. The professors for my second master’s were more reasonable, but they had all been working journalists.

Much later,  I watched the movie, “Dark Matter” with a group of graduate and undergraduate Caltech students.  “Dark Matter” was inspired by the University of Iowa shooting in which a disgruntled graduate student returned to kill his mentors and his former roommate/rival. The competition to enter Caltech is fierce and yet the students often socially awkward and predominately male. This academic year, 61 percent of the undergrads and 72 percent of the grad students are male and 45 percent of the undergrads and 12 percent of the grad students are Asian (27 undergrad and 35 percent grad are white) What better audience could there be for such a movie.

“Dark Matter” was the first feature film by opera director Chen Shi-Zhen and won the 2007 Sundance Film Festival Alfred P. Sloan Prize cash award of $20,000. The award is given to a feature film that has science or technology as a theme or depicts a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a central character. Other winners include the 2005 “Grizzly Man” and the 2016 “Embrace of the Serpent.” In the movie, Liu Xing (Liu Ye) portrays a brilliant Chinese graduate student who joins Valley State University to study under a well-respected cosmologist Professor Jacob Reiser (Aidan Quinn). Socially, his transition into American life is aided by a wealthy university patron, Joanna Silver (Meryl Streep).

Xing proposes to do his doctoral research dissertation on dark matter, which he believes shapes the universe but also his theory conflicts with Reiser’s theory. Reiser doesn’t approve of Xing’s topic and favors the work of another  doctoral student, Feng Gang (Lloyd Suh). Gang had been Xing’s rival when they were undergrads. Feng also speaks English better than Xing and adopts an English name, Laurence. Feng is given a departmental award while Xing is unable to finish his Ph.D. and admit to his parents his failure. Xing shoots both Reiser and Feng out of anger and despair.

In the 1991 University of Iowa shooting, the Chinese-born Gang Lu did graduate and receive his Ph.D. in May. He believed that his dissertation should have received the D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize which went to his former roommate,Linhua Shan. Unable to find a job, Lu was still in the area and attended a November research group meeting where he shot three people: Shan, his dissertation chair (Christoph K. Goertz) and a member of his dissertation committee (Dwight R. Nicholson). He then went to another building to shoot the grievance counselor, T. Anne Cleary, who he had complained to about his dissertation not receiving the prize.  He also shot and wounded a student employee. In all, he killed five people before committing suicide.

The movie, “Dark Matter,” was originally going to be released in April 2007, but on April 16 of that year, Korean American Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded 17 at the Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia before killing himself. Cho used a Glock 19 pistol and a Walther P22 pistol. Cho had been diagnosed with mental issues. If he had, like the Orlando shooter, used an assault rifle, the toll would have been worse. Until the Orlando shooting, the Virginia Tech shooting had the largest death toll for a shooting by a single gunman in the U.S.  “Dark Matter” was released a year later.

What you might conclude from these four real incidents (Orlando, UCLA, University of Ohio and Virginia Tech) is that Asian American men are dangerous, particularly when they are angry. They certainly have many things to be angry about as both the recent hashtag whitewashedOUT and the long-running blog of Angry Asian Man have noted.  One could fall back on the Orientalism and Yellow Perilism of another era, before the more modern stereotype of the model minority was applied to East Asians. Or one could remember that at Sandy Hook, the third deadliest mass shooting, was not committed by an Asian American. The 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults before committing suicide. Lanza was neither Asian nor Muslim. He was an angry loner, contacting his mother only by email even though they lived in the same house.

Once proponents of Yellow Perilism called for the closing of immigration to the Fu Manchus of the world. Now anti-Islamic sentiment has attached itself to the Orlando shooting. Yet all of these shooters were not Muslim. They were mad men, in the sense of angry as well as mentally troubled. After the 2015 San Bernardino shooting by Pakistani-American Syed Rizwan Farook and his Pakistani-born wife Tashfeen Malik, both also Asian Americans, one can’t deny there is a problem with Islamic terrorists yet there are Christian, Buddhist and Hindu terrorist groups and the United States government has supported terrorist and paramilitary groups. Terrorism exists, but isn’t inherently Muslim in nature. There are dangerous men of all races and religions and some aren’t religious at all.

Once Muhammad Ali was consider a threat because he was black and Muslim but he was only dangerous to his boxing opponents and the established way of thinking. As I have written earlier, there were heroic Muslims during World War II in Europe as portrayed in the 2011 fictional account, “Free Men,”  that included a characterization of a real hero, Si Kaddour Benghabrit,  and the documentary “Besa: The Promise.

Dark matter of the cosmos and the human mind remain unsolved mysteries.  Dark matter of the mad mind is behind mass murders and that’s a problem not limited to Muslims.




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