No intended amalgam, as the French would say, linking Brexit and terrorism. But ugly words have been plentiful in 2016 and they have played their part in inspriing violence and inciting hatred** ...
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.
The inaccuracy of the couplet remembered from childhood has been amply demonstrated in 2016. In another miserable year for words, menacing language has again inspired violence of thought or action.
This time last year, we were mourning the deaths of hundreds in successive outrages from the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and Africa to Paris and California. Most were committed by ISIL or its allies. More blood of innocents flowed in 2016, as witnessed only last Monday at the Berlin Christmas market.
Who can seriously doubt that the terrorists were encouraged and emboldened by words of blind hatred?
And in the West, the scourge of terrorism makes perfectly law-abiding Muslims the target of words of suspicion and abuse.
After the earlier lorry attack in Nice, killing 86 people on July 14, mayors along the French Riviera fell directly into ISIL’s hands by banning the so-called burqini from their beaches.
It was at best an absurd, demeaning denial of human rights, at worst the sort of divisive response ISIL craved: confusing what people wear and what they think or do, sometimes explicitly as mayors reached for outlandish justification.
ISIL is an enemy of humanity, openly contemptuous of the rights of ordinary people. But beyond even the hard-of-thinking discrimination applied by elected mayors – until French courts put a stop to their folly – western democracy’s own dangerous limitations were evident, too.
Europe’s far right has made or threatened political advances based in large measure on a rotten instinct to blame foreigners for whatever goes wrong. The snarling British debate on membership of the European Union saw blatant lies and cheap insults traded between the Leave and Remain camps.
Wrongheaded or not, support for Brexit is a respectable position. And its adherents, overwhelmingly, were as disgusted as anyone by the killing during the campaign of Jo Cox, a member of parliament and the mother of two small children.
But it is legitimate to recall that the killer bitterly resented Mrs Cox’s relentless championing of racial equality. No cause is aided by pretending his murderous act was not an extreme extension of the same dark feelings of prejudice that drove some demands for British withdrawal.
The Guardian was right to rebuke anti-EU pundits, "more concerned with Brexit than the truth", for rejecting any wider context. "That context should not be oversimplified or exaggerated, but it should not be denied either," it said. "Jo Cox was the victim of a white racist at a time when white racism has renewed confidence."
Six months after the vote, the nastiness of the campaign lingers. Leavers complain of being portrayed as stupid, selfish and, yes, racist when clearly many are none of these things; defeated remainers accuse them of what one commentator called "victors’ rage".
Meanwhile, the United States staged a presidential election campaign to be remembered for its childish mud-slinging, with intemperate words sometimes accompanied by blows. Why, some of us asked while pondering the choice between thoroughly unappealing (Donald Trump) and borderline unappealing (Hillary Clinton), could America not tweak its constitution and keep Barack Obama, the decent if flawed incumbent?
It would be reassuring to offer hope that 2017 will be more edifying in words or deeds.
But the prognosis for Syria remains bleak. Away from the conflict zone, fanatics are still swayed by words of exhortation from ISIL leaders to slaughter ever more civilians. And on a more mundane level, differences of political opinion will continue to find ugly expression.
How uplifting it would be to be proved wrong.
** From my Comment page column for The National