In defense of Liam Neeson

This is unquestionably a bad thing to have thought and a bad thing to have done. Neeson, in his rage over a rape, was engaging in the horrible art of collective guilt, seeing all black men as legitimate targets for the crime of one particular black man. That is racist and wrong. But here’s the thing: Neeson knows this. He admits the wickedness of his thinking. It makes him ‘ashamed’, he says. ‘It was horrible, horrible…’ As he recounts his ‘primal’ desire for vengeance, his voice quakes. Neeson is clearly disgusted with himself. He did not make this confession to promote the collective judgement of black people or race-based vengeance, but to do the opposite: to highlight how awful and corrupting such feelings are. The thirst for vengeance is ultimately a destructive thing, he says — an unusually nuanced take from an actor promoting a Hollywood thriller about vengeance.

Yet none of this matters to the Twittermob or to those sections of the media that love nothing more than hanging out to dry individuals who have thought or said or done bad things. The ritual public denunciation came swiftly and furiously. The insults flew in: Neeson is disgusting, a racist, a white supremacist. Fellow actors chipped in too. ‘Liam Neeson shocks Hollywood’ with his ‘racist revenge fantasy confession’, said one report. Here’s the twisted irony: the very thing Neeson was condemning in his earlier self — his primal need for vengeance — was now on full display by his haters and detractors. The primal nature of Twittermobbing was clear for all to see. Neeson may have grown out of the urge for vengeance, but many ‘social justice warriors’ have not. They play the primal game of vengeful public shaming on an almost daily basis, gleefully hunting down anyone who has ever misspoken, mis-thought or made a moral mistake.