There was a period in the not-too-distant past, maybe the late ’90s, when the word “random” was used as excessively and imprecisely as “ironic” in the song that made Alanis Morissette famous.
Dude, that was totally random. We met some random girls. His sense of humor is so random.
Some people do this with the word “basically.”
I’d like to think President Obama was just demonstrating this tic when he told the explainers of all things that Paris Jews were part of a “bunch of folks” who were “randomly” shot at a deli.
The trouble is the president is always vague when describing the motivations of people who shout “Allauh Akbar!” before committing atrocities or call themselves ISIS today — “whatever ideology they’re operating off of” — but highly specific about Christian, Western and American wrongdoing, no matter how long ago.
Nobody would say that a cross was “randomly” burned on a family’s lawn by people “randomly” wearing cloaks and robes.
As tendentious as Obama’s history of the Crusades might be, he would probably grant that the conflict between Christians and Muslims was not entirely “random.”
Our random shooter in Paris supported ISIS. His wife is believed to have appeared in an ISIS propaganda video.
The video reportedly included such random assertions as, “If you fight for democracy, we will fight for Islam.”
“Where is this freedom of speech?” the random militants asked. “When in 2009, the cartoonist Siné, after drawing the Jews and Sarkozy’s son, was sacked by Charb and Charlie Hebdo.”
These dudes are totally random. Must be their random sense of humor.
This appears to be the administration’s line. Consider that painful Fox News interview with State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. Asked repeatedly why officials seemed hesitant to use the phrase “Islamic extremism,” she became the politically correct equivalent of a snake-handling fundamentalist speaking in tongues.
“Well, it’s not hard to say, but it’s not the only kind of extremism we face,” Harf replied. “I would recommend folks looking at this administration’s counter-terrorism record.”
“Tell me,” Martha McCallum pressed, “what other forms of extremism are particularly troubling and compelling to you right now?”
“Well, look, there are people out there who want to kill other people in the name of a variety of causes,” Harf averred. “Of course, Martha, we are most focused on people doing this in the name of Islam.”
Finally, the “I-word” being something “we are most focused on!” Notice, however, she did not specify the rest of this “variety of causes” we must fear. Probably a bunch of folks, just randomly shooting people.
Here again I’d like to give the president the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps Obama merely wants to avoid the suggestion that Islam equals terrorism or that there is something uniquely evil about Muslims.
One would think that modifiers like “radical” and “extremist” could do some of this work. Another alternative is educating people about Salafist jihadism and other forms of Islamic militancy that don’t implicate all Muslims but do accurately describe the ideologies of the kind of people who attacked America on 9/11.
The president seems to believe that his American listening audience will not be able to handle such a discussion, that they will burst into a bigoted and perhaps murderous frenzy unless they believe ISIS members are equally likely to be Unitarians.
The man Americans pay for protection protects others from Americans, as if they were an angry mob.
Obama compares ISIS-style terrorism to injustices that were once systemic in our country. But American extremism of the Ku Klux Klan variety is a good deal more random, or at least marginal, in 2015 than the militancy now taking over parts of Iraq and Syria.
Part of this is the cast of mind Robert Frost identified when he described liberals as being too broadminded to take their own side in an argument. I asked an Obama supporter if Franklin D. Roosevelt should have apologized for slavery, then less than 80 years in America’s past, before going to war against Hitler.
“FDR should not have put Japanese Americans in internment camps,” my correspondent replied.
The internment of Japanese Americans was indeed a moral outrage. But if only countries with perfect histories can fight ISIS or Hitler, we are in trouble, since no such countries exist.
It’s also easier to point to the sins of people who are long dead than your own (Obama has ordered drone strikes that have killed more Muslims than anyone he was lecturing at the prayer breakfast), much less meet today’s challenges.
But maybe I’m being uncharitable and all of this is just totally random.
W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.