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06th Feb 2019

John Barnes says he “would have sympathy” with Liam Neeson if he’d killed someone

Reuben Pinder

‘It was the environment he was brought up in that made him think that way.’

John Barnes has continued his defence of Liam Neeson after the actor revealed he wanted to indiscriminately kill a black man following a loved one being raped. Speaking on Wednesday, he said he would “have sympathy” with Neeson if he had killed someone, although he would “have to pay for his crime.”

The former footballer and vocal campaigner against racism appeared on Sky News on Tuesday to defend the 66-year-old actor’s comments saying that the story had “spun” by the media and that Neeson was clearly “horrified and ashamed of the way he felt”.

Now, speaking to JOE, Barnes said he would have “sympathy” for Neeson had he carried out the murder, saying that his views on race had been the product of the environment and era they formed in, as well as comparing the circumstances to Rwanda’s reconciliation for those involved in the genocide against Tutsi people.

“I would have had as much sympathy as I would for a Hutu who killed Tutsi in Rwanda because of the way he was brought up, because of the way he was indoctrinated to think,” Barnes said.

“Any Hutus who killed Tutsis based on orders from leaders, based on them being forced to do it, based on the fact that this was what was happening at that particular time, and the truce of reconciliation means that you come forward and you admit it, you are forgiven.

“Of course we don’t do that in the West, because we are so fortunate that we don’t have those decisions to make, that we can judge child soldiers, we can judge suicide bombers, we can judge people in sectarian violence, ‘that is something we would never do’.”

Credit: Getty

Comparing the situation directly to Neeson’s, Barnes said: “That is something that we would do. Had we been under those circumstances, a lot of us would have the capacity to do that.

“So while I understand the rule of law, and he would have to pay for his crimes, I would have empathy with him 100 per cent.”

“Fortunately, he came to his senses within a week and then realised the errors of his ways in terms of what he had been brought up to think, and sought help from a priest, and he came out of that, and he should be commended for that.

The race row erupted on Monday after an interview with Neeson was released, in which he admitted he “went up and down areas with a cosh” hoping to kill a “black bastard”, after being told that unnamed loved one had been sexually assaulted by a person of colour.

The actor admitted when he made the comments that he “regretted” and was “ashamed” of feeling that way and has since claimed he is “not racist”, explaining his beliefs as being the product of growing up surrounded by sectarianism in Northern Ireland.

Following Neeson’s admission and the greater discussion around it, Barnes believes society needs to “empathise with people for what they do while recognising that it’s wrong” and recognise the role of the media in shaping public opinions and fueling discrimination.

There’s a reason he thinks the way he does, which he can’t help,” he said.

“It was the environment he was brought up in that made him think that way, so therefore, I would have sympathy for him, while I would recognise that he would then have to go and serve time.”

Credit: Getty

Barnes added: “Of course we have personal responsibility. But it’s difficult because every day we keep seeing in the media about Muslim grooming gangs and ‘some people are more worthy than others’.

“I use Donald Trump as an example, regardless of what you think of him. If you read Fox, and you like Fox, Donald Trump’s a hero, With CNN, he’s a villain, so how can you blame people, if they watch Fox, for thinking he’s a hero? How can you blame people who hate Trump because of CNN?

“It’s the same thing with everything. How can you blame a man, whose daughter was killed by a Muslim in the Manchester bombings, in terms of what he feels about all Muslims because the narrative is that Muslims are terrorists or groomers? So therefore if your daughter has been groomed, by a Muslim, after that you’re going to look at all Muslim men in a negative light.

“If she was groomed by a white man, are you going to look at all white men in a bad light? No you won’t, because you individualise the white man, ‘he’s a terrible man’, but you generalise when you talk about Muslims and grooming. And this is the way indoctrination works.”

Barnes has long been a vocal campaigner against racism in both football and society, back in December, he told JOE that passing laws would not solve any issues related to racism and that education is the only way to make progress.

Recent discussion around race has seen a reassessment of historical figures whose views previously went unchallenged. Despite having described Winston Churchill as “white supremacist mass murderer”, Barnes clarifies that his empathy would even extend to the wartime prime minister who has been criticised for the role he played in the Bengali famine, which saw four million people lose their lives.

“I don’t blame Churchill, because Winston Churchill is not to blame,” he said.

“That is the environment he was brought up in – to believe in the superiority. Very much like what Adolf Hitler said – and I’m not comparing him to Adolf Hitler – to believe in the superiority of the Aryan race, and so did Winston Churchill.”

Neeson has faced a widespread backlash since his interview was published by The Independent on Monday. The red carpet opening of the actor’s revenge film Cold Pursuit – which sees his character take violent revenge against drug dealers who he believes killed his son – has already been cancelled by the studio.

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