Illustration: Patrick Klose

SPEX columnist Steven Lee Beeber takes a look at everyday American madness. This time around: »Sticks and stones might break your bones, but words will never hurt you«.

Twelve cartoonists killed for their satirical depictions of Mohammed? Four Jews slaughtered for believing in someone other than him? In a country founded on religious freedom and the right to free speech, one would think that the only reaction would be to decry intolerance.

And yet many here are using the recent tragedy in Paris to advance their usual agenda. They’re denouncing Obama, praising guns, and putting down progressive ideas. The Obama-haters claim that by not marching with other world leaders, the president looked like a coward if not a closet terrorist. The weapons-lovers ague that strict gun control laws kept the French police from being able to fire back back. And those who hate so-called Political Correctness mutter that discouraging religious and ethnic stereotypes is the same as being muzzled by fanatics.

Is the real lesson here that the French »government does not trust the local police to use guns to keep the streets safe« (, that the president will not speak out against radical Islam (Fox News), that we should be allowed to fling insults at the targets of our choice ( Or is it far simpler, something that every American child learns on the playground? There, when verbally taunted by a bully, we’re taught that the proper response is to chant, »Sticks and stones might break my bones, but words will never hurt me.« Trite, yes. But considering the state of the world, more true than ever.

Intolerance and hatred are having a good run lately. Those pure of heart think that to cleanse the earth they must eradicate those unlike them. Their piousness is a danger, their sanctimony a dagger waiting to cut.

But as they say, look to the children. Sticks and stones might break your bones, but words will never hurt you. I can imagine that many followers of Islam might be offended by Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons – just as I am offended daily by the sorts of things I see on Fox News. But, like the American Civil Liberties Union defending the right of Nazis to march in a town full of Holocaust survivors, I champion free speech above all. What better way to reveal idiocy than to give it the floor?

Ultimately, I wish the religious zealots, the Obama-haters, the gun nuts, and the rest would just sit for a moment and think before they act or speak. If they did then maybe they could fill the silence with some quiet contemplation. In fact, since this month we’re celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, I suggest they consider his message. King preached peace, tolerance, and compassion even as he had the most vile insults shouted in his face. While he died at the hands of one of those shouters, his message didn’t. Call me naïve, but I’d rather be called names than resort to violence to make my point – especially if my point is that my god is wise and compassionate.