John Barnes has won widespread praise and a lively debate after he gave a passionate speech on Question Time – DEFENDING Liam Neeson.
The ex-England footballer said people should give the actor "credit" for admitting his "shame" that he once wanted to kill a "black b*****d" after his friend was raped.
He told the audience on the BBC’s flagship debate show "we all discriminate" because of how we grew up "and we have to admit it."
Despite the controversial point of view attracting some criticism, the way he explained it in the wider context of society was widely applauded online.
He said: "As much as we all want to say we view people as equal, we don’t.
"And we have to admit it. Because we are influenced by our environment.
"And the environment he [Liam Neeson] came from, albeit from a Catholic and Protestant point of view, is whoever the enemy is we have to kill the enemy.
"The enemy at that time happened to be black. But it equally could have been English and he would have wanted to kill any Englishman.
"But those who are holier than thou and say how terrible it is, it’s a disgrace. What is the truth about the way we all feel about people of different races, different religions.
"We all discriminate and we have to admit it. Why I’m happy to say I discriminate unconsciously is the environment I’ve been brought up in shows me that and it continues to show me that.
"You read newspapers every day and you hear about Muslim terrorists and Nigerian gangs, and that gives you a negative impression not just of terrorists and gangs but of Nigerians and Muslims.
"This is the influence society has on us… And unless we’re going to be able to have the conversation, rather than as soon as we mention something saying ‘you’re racist’, ‘you discriminate’, but we don’t, that’s not the reality.
"Because if I was to ask you now, if you had a choice of who you had to live next to between… anybody, a Muslim, a white person, you would have an opinion based on the way you’ve been brought up.
"But we won’t admit it because we’re afraid of being called racist."
The speech has been shared thousands of times on Twitter , where users had a lively debate and many praised the ex-footballer’s honesty.
James Melville said: "Best ever answer on Question Time goes to John Barnes. This is what we need in politics. Honesty. Politics from the heart."
Author Ian Leslie said: "John Barnes does something amazing with the Liam Neeson controversy here; elevates it to a completely different level of insight into politics, prejudice and human nature."
Oxford politics lecturer Jennifer Cassidy said: "Westminster, I hope you’re taking notes.
"John Barnes took 90 sec to deconstruct the nature of discrimination in the UK, how it‘s bolstered by the media and fed to us by narratives.
"The fundamental necessity to admit it and confront it together."
TV presenter Gabby Logan said: "The rest of the panel were patronising and very quick to jump in to win over the audience.
"Barnsey was insightful and honest on a range of topics."
And Conor Boyle said: "John Barnes just nailed the liam neeson debate."
Writer Aaron Vallely added: "This is, truly, how society influences us.
"officialbarnesy offers a logical and empathetic take on the Liam Neeson scandal. Whatever your position, it does none of us any use to shut down the conversation through shaming people."
But not all agreed with him.
Maurice Mcleod said: "I love John Barnes but he’s just wrong on this Liam Neeson stuff.
"Not sure why he’s so wedded to making excuses for a his clearly racist action."
And earlier comments that he made, saying Jews were not necessarily a race, provoked a backlash in some quarters.
He said: "You have to be very careful about anti-Semitism because there is a difference between that and anti-Zionism.
"I think it’s getting mixed up because I think you can criticise the state of Israel without being anti-Semitic.
“I think that from the Labour party’s point of view as much as Zionists think it’s the same – it’s a bit like saying all racism is the same because it isn’t.
“Because for example the Jews in my opinion, while it is a religion they aren’t necessarily a separate race of people, so I think they get mixed up in that respect.”
Michael Conway tweeted: "With respect, what does John Barnes know about antisemitism and why does his “opinion” about Jews not being a race mean anything. The quality of debate is painful, misinformed and hurtful."
Mandy Norman added: "Jewish people are considered a race legally and it seems scientifically."
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