Lindy McDowell: Honest Liam Neeson's primal rage is a real issue Northern Ireland is familiar with
Liam Neeson's problem may be that he is too intelligent for the sages of social media. Okay, so maybe it wasn't the cleverest thing in today's censorious, sanctimonious world to confess to a youthful bout of blind rage and racism.
But Neeson was doing this in a thoughtful interview, trying to explain how in the aftermath of great personal loss and hurt, for some people "something primal" kicks in. An insane, unthinking, blind rage that leads to the desire for retaliation.
And not necessarily a targeted retaliation aimed at the actual culprit. But at the entire community from which he or she is deemed to come.
The actor was being interviewed to publicise his latest movie about a bereaved father who seeks retribution after the murder of his son.
He spoke of an incident in his past when "someone close" was raped. The alleged rapist was black.
"God forbid you've ever had a member of your family hurt under criminal conditions," he told the interviewer. "I'll tell you a story. This is true."
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Neeson added: "I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I'd be approached by somebody - I'm ashamed to say that - and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some 'black b*****d' ( he used air quotes as he said those words) would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him."
Later in the interview, he stressed: "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. But I did learn a lesson from it."
Was his response to the rape racist, indefensible, shocking, despicable? Yes. All of those things.
Is the Neeson of today an unthinking racist? No, far from it.
The very fact that he was being so searingly honest in his recall, in his confessional shame, speaks of the man that he is. What he was articulating - or attempting to articulate, and certainly to condemn - was an unjustifiable, knee-jerk thirst for revenge.
That "something primal" that is all too often fuelled by racist or sectarian impulse.
And dear God, we know all about that here in Neeson's native Northern Ireland, don't we? For his story is illustrative of the same unthinking, hate-filled desire for bloody vengeance that led here to so many tit-for-tat killings in which so many innocent people lost their lives.
Not the protagonists. The innocent, who to murderous minds were stereotyped, dehumanised as just "them b*****ds" from the other side.
How often in the liturgy of a police press conference in the aftermath of an atrocity in Northern Ireland have we heard those words intoned that "the family are appealing for no retaliation"?
How very often has that plaintive plea been ignored?
Neeson's blind, biased, bitter fury lasted for a week. And then, he says, he caught himself on. He says he is ashamed of how he felt back then.
In his life, the actor has known tremendous success and suffered terrible loss. His wife, Natasha Richardson, the mother of his young sons, was killed in a freak skiing accident. More recently, his family here in Northern Ireland have been hit by dual tragedy.
This is a man who speaks from cruel experience of hurt and bereavement. He understands only too well the confusion of emotions that come flooding with grief and pain. And, yes, fury is often among them.
As the great John Barnes, the former footballer and commentator, has said in his defence, this is a "witch-hunt" against Neeson. He's right.
It's a witch-hunt by virtue signallers twisting the candid, contemplative words of a good man into something base.
We don't live in a Disney movie world of solely sugar-coated emotion.
We live in a world where racism, sectarianism, hate, primal rage and the savagery and violence they spawn still exist.
And like Liam Neeson, we need to talk about them.