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Opinion: When it Comes to Opposing Prejudice We Must All Be Prepared to Stand Up and Be Counted

Published on: 8 Dec, 2023
Updated on: 11 Dec, 2023

Cllr James Walsh

By James Walsh

leader of the Labour group at Guildford Borough Council

Guildford has often been stereotyped as the epitome of a monocultural Home Counties way of life; a pleasant though slightly bland example of a traditional Surrey town.

Not so.

There is a wide range of diversity across the borough and many people from all corners of the globe have made the town and surrounding villages their home. In recent years, we have seen people seek refuge from war and persecution here from places like Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan.

We have long benefited from the vital work nurses and other medical staff have brought to the Royal Surrey Hospital from their homes in the Philippines and Nepal. We have a breathtaking range of nationalities learning and bringing their knowledge and experience to their fields of expertise at the University of Surrey. There is much to celebrate.

However, with diversity comes a sense of change that can be unsettling for some. Others simply feel threatened by difference and respond with hostility, aggression and violence. Those people are, fortunately, in the small minority but their actions can ripple and have serious repercussions for individuals, communities and wider society.

That is why the Labour Group at Guildford Borough Council successfully introduced a motion this week to stand up against antisemitism and Islamophobia.

Attacks on Jews have increased dramatically in recent weeks and, while events in the Middle East have been a clear trigger, we know that underlying problems go back many years.

Antisemitism is a scourge that goes back thousands of years – indeed, we might have the remains of one of the oldest synagogues in Western Europe beneath our High Street which possibly fell into disuse following the expulsion of Jews from the town by Queen Eleanor in the twelfth century.

The number of cases of Islamophobia has also increased in recent years and we heard powerful testimony from Cllr Billal Akhter of how he and his family had been personally affected by this after 9/11 at the recent meeting of full council (Tuesday, December 5).

In recent weeks, I have become aware of attacks on some of our Jewish residents here in Guildford, including a gang attack on the home of a single mother and also a family who felt so threatened that they are in the process of moving away from Guildford and the UK as a result.

While I must emphasise that these examples are small in number, I would also say that one attack or threat is one too many; apart from the obvious physical harm they can present, they can also corrode relationships and drive wedges between individuals and communities.

That is why we asked the council this week to make a public stand against both and all forms of prejudice. The symbolism of the council as the representative body of the borough calling out intolerance and bigotry and saying “no” to antisemitism and Islamophobia will hopefully send a clear message to those in our community who feel isolated and threatened.

I hope too that it will send a message to those who choose to act with hate in their hearts that it will not be tolerated.

Turning the other cheek can have a devastating cost, as we have learned from the history of 1930s and 1940s as well as more recently from places like Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. This is why it is so important that we all stand up and be counted when the time comes.

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Responses to Opinion: When it Comes to Opposing Prejudice We Must All Be Prepared to Stand Up and Be Counted

  1. Peta Malthouse Reply

    December 8, 2023 at 4:43 pm

    I am heartened by Cllr Walsh’s comments while horrified by the examples he gives.

    This is Guildford. The rise of intolerance tends to occur when some sections of our community are left behind. Those people are right to ask why but they are wrong to attribute it to other sections of the community.

    Jewish people in this country have no influence over the behaviour of the Israeli government or indeed the election of it. The same can be said about Moslems and Hamas.

    One thing should unite us in this country and this the desire for peace. That can only be achieved by persuasion and diplomacy, not threats.

    We have more in common that unites us. Work hard to achieve it. Reach out to those in trouble and offer help where you can.

  2. Mike Smith Reply

    December 10, 2023 at 12:31 pm

    Islamophobia? I reserve the right to be intolerant of any religion that wants to govern how I live my life.

    • Jason Spillelli Reply

      December 12, 2023 at 1:54 pm

      That is literally every religion. This guy needs to give his head a wobble.

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    December 10, 2023 at 2:05 pm

    Admirable sentiments, but a little ironic from a party so recently led by Jeremy Corbyn who could not even call Hamas terrorists.

    • James Walsh Reply

      December 10, 2023 at 4:48 pm

      If Jules Cranwell does a quick Google search he’ll see how little I think about Jeremy Corbyn and his crackpot politics. Said so at the time too, repeatedly, and in the press following the 2015 General Election when I signed a letter calling for him to go.

      The Labour Party is, and always has been, about a lot more than the 2015-2019 aberration and the misguided (and just plain wrong) views of a minority. That’s why it’s currently in the ascendancy – that, and the takeover of the Conservative Party by a minority of their own “more excitable” MPs, of course.

      James Walsh is a Labour borough councillor for Bellfields & Slyfield

    • Jason Spillelli Reply

      December 12, 2023 at 1:57 pm

      Admirable sentiments, but a little ironic from a party so recently led by the architects of the windrush scandal. Thatcher and Blair met with IRA terrorists and look…peace in NI! Mr Cranwell’s reactionary dark age views just make me laugh nowadays.

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