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EXTREME PREJUDICE

Liam Neeson as a Nazi


For fans of the Northern Irish actor, age 66, Liam Neeson, as I was, his last few days have seen a road best not taken. Depending on your politics, or Twittersphere, you have either condemned him, or lurched queasily to his defense, since he volunteered the information that, years ago, after a friend was raped, he asked the race of the assailant, and, upon learning they were allegedly African-American, decided to kill a 'black bastard' (his words) in revenge; thereupon he claims he spent a week or more prowling the streets, hoping a black man would attack him so he could murder him with a cosh.

In his defence (one supposes he would see it that way) he confessed to these bloodthirsty and racist impulses in the context of his violent upbringing in Northern Ireland; and condemned the cycle of violence that revenge initiates; and he called these horrible thoughts.

It is unfortunate for Neeson that the long connection between the put upon of the North of Ireland and the American civil rights movement has been mainly forgotten; or that for many years the Irish were seen as colonially-mistreated, in many ways victims themselves of racism. 'No dogs, blacks or Irish' was the phrase in 1950s Britain, after all.

However, no one is likely to see Mr Neeson as a victim these days. A rich and successful Hollywood actor, his films have veered from superb dramas, to recently, ultra-violent Charles Bronson-style actioners, that made him a household name and hugely popular. The Taken meme is perhaps the most famous of all 21st century movie tropes.

Moreover, his confession appears to have been aimed at selling his latest violent film, selling revenge as entertainment, and ramping up interest; nor was his speech inclusive of any awareness that seeking to murder a human being simply on the basis of the colour of their skin is, well, terrible and racist.

Had Mr Neeson been living in 1950s Ireland, his views, however distasteful, might have made some sense in the context of historical ignorance. In the age of Black Lives Matter, and BlacKKKlansman, they are at best tone deaf, and at worst, well, racist.

Mr Neeson has instantly forfeited his right to be a respected, and well-liked film actor, and should retire from making films at least until such time as he has found a way to make truly meaningful and significant reparations to the communities he has harmed with his frightening and injurious statements. His latest film should be at least temporarily shelved - in fairness to the other cast and crew who will otherwise see the film rightly boycotted in the current context. It may end up never seen.

The history of Black America is tragically one of summary and cruel injustice, lynchings, and unlawful punishments. Mr Neeson has confessed (during Black History Month) to wanting to lynch a black man because someone commited a rape - any black man would do. It is true, Mr Neeson appears not to have actually killed anyone - but he harboured racist and murderous thoughts, and he has spoken of them even now with insufficient sense of the gravity of his emotions.

As a Catholic, I believe God can and will forgive sins; but I also believe people must ask for forgiveness.

Mr Neeson needs to start praying, and seeking genuine forgiveness, fast. This is no time for him to dig in or be intransigent. He has spoken candidly, but foolishly, and evilly, and the darkness in his heart will not be easily forgotten.

Nor is he alone in being a person with internal rage, or wicked thoughts and feelings, and we cannot pretend the rest of humanity is blameless or all-good. But in this matter, Mr Neeson has no one to blame for his downfall but himself. I genuinely hope he is able to heal the wounds he has opened, for all concerned.

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