The trials of Liam Neeson

Recently Liam Neeson shared in an interview that 40 years ago he was so outraged at the rape of a friend that he went out to look an opportunity to kill anyone who was of the same race as that rapist.

The Taken star went on to say that it took him a week or two to get over his impulse. He appeared to realize during the interview how shocking his admission was. He said that it “was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that and I’ve never admitted that, and I’m saying it to a journalist. God forbid.”

“It’s awful,” Neeson went on. “But I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, ‘What the fuck are you doing,’ you know? … I come from a society—I grew up in Northern Ireland in the Troubles—and, you know, I knew a couple of guys that died on hunger strike, and I had acquaintances who were very caught up in the Troubles, and I understand that need for revenge, but it just leads to more revenge, to more killing and more killing, and Northern Ireland’s proof of that.”

This created a storm of criticism, primarily because the rapist was identified as black, which meant that Neeson went hunting to kill a black guy. Neeson was branded racist and pilloried to the extent that some were calling for the end of his career.

So 40 years ago, Neeson was overcome with the impulse for revenge that he went looking for an excuse to satisfy that impulse but never did anything wrong ultimately. In fact he came to his senses, sought help, and has now shared the story to illustrate the horror that lurks within man.

This is a cautionary tale. A tale of redemption. But somehow it got twisted into a “black lives don’t matter” vortex.

Charles Blow, an African-American columnist for the New York Times, asked on Twitter: “Could Will Smith confess to stalking the streets of Los Angeles for a whole week searching for random white men to kill and get a pass? Exactly.”

Roland Martin, in an opinion piece in The Daily Beast wrote, “Okay, it was 40 years ago. But to black people, that hardly matters. We’ve seen way too much of this to think those days are over.”

”The reason why I can’t just easily brush off Liam’s racial revenge story is that our history is filled with similar stories: white woman cries rape, and black men pay the ultimate price at the hands of the Liam Neesons of the world.”

Only Liam Neeson did not kill anyone. No one paid any price except Neeson and that woman who was raped.

”Now someone may suggest that Neeson should get a break because what he described happened 40 years ago, and he never acted on those racial fears, and admitted he was wrong. But we are still dealing with this evil.”

Which is in ALL of us.

”Liam Neeson is no hero because he sought to avenge his friend’s rape. He was willing to take the life of a black man—any black man—to serve as his way of exacting revenge. What was deep inside of him is not rare. He is just like many white men who came before him.”

Nor did Neeson try to make himself a hero. But the last line is the point I want to highlight: the notion that this evil is the domain of white men, while the writer is black, and therein lies the self-righteousness that reeks throughout the article.

On a much more reduced scale is the recent issue locally of some landlords who refused to give tenancy because the applicants were “not chinese enough” or perhaps not chinese at all. Inevitably there were calls to legislate and enforce non-discrimination.

Alwyn Lau waded into the debate with the point that we should differentiate between discrimination and preference. While Praba Ganesan responded saying that 1) we should try not to describe our preferences in terms of race and 2) people should go beyond their comfort zone for the greater good of society, and their own personal growth.

Me? I think we are all “cists”, race or otherwise. Discrimination, as the systematic victimising of a person or a group of persons based on their unique difference from us is something we should positively act against. But “preference” which takes as its defence personal choice, can hold us back as persons, and as a nation, as Praba pointed out. While we should not legislate preference, we should want to educate, encourage, and persuade people to open themselves up, rather than defend and uphold the dogma of personal choice.

My own take on these two stories is that all of us are sinners, or to describe it in Liam Neeson’s terms, there is evil in all of us. And as such we should be more kind and gracious towards one another. But we recognise how damaging that evil is, and that there is something better, and we should encourage one another towards being better.

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