By Marian Smith, msnbc.com
LONDON - Multiculturalism has become a contentious issue in the U.K., especially since Prime Minister David Cameron declared in February that it had failed and was partly to blame for fostering Islamist extremism. But the tragic bombing and shooting in Norway on Friday has thrown a new spotlight on the issue here: Anders Behring Breivik claimed to have connections to British far-right groups like the English Defence League and said in his manifesto that he wants to “save” Europe from Islam.
Msnbc.com spoke to a variety of Britons to hear their reactions to the tragedy in Norway and their views on multiculturalism, extremism and the potential threat of a violent attack by far-right extremists on British soil.
Bernard, 67, retired oil industry executive
“I agree with him, I’m sorry. I’m fed up with political tolerance. This is a Christian country, you abide by those rules. When I lived in Dubai you couldn’t have a church, you couldn’t wear a cross. It’s a double standard. Muslims are trying to take over the world, I’m sorry.
David Arnott for msnbc.com
Jazmin Hafeez, above, sits outside a cafe on Edgware Road, in London on July 26th 2011.
“I think he is a narcissist… I don’t agree with what he’s done but his feelings, a lot of people feel like that here. This country has changed over the past 20, 30 years. A lot of people here think the way that guy does.”
Jazmin Hafeez, 22, student
“I don’t think there is [a chance it could happen here]. The U.K. is so multicultural. There’s a large number of Muslims in Europe, but they’re not going to take over. But you probably get different views from the generation above us.”
Metropolitan police spokesman
Although the British police would not get into specifics, a spokesman said: “We have seen, through arrests, prosecutions and convictions, an intention by violent extremists, which includes right-wing extremists, to cause harm. We treat right-wing extremism as seriously as any other form of violent extremism.”
David Arnott for msnbc.com
"If [multiculturalism] is handled well it works beautifully," Patrick Lamb says.
Ghaffar Hussain, head of outreach at the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank in the U.K.
“There’s a new form of extremism, focusing exclusively on Muslims and Islam and a perceived threat. It’s about people creating an atmosphere of hate and paranoia. [The far-right groups] create the mood music, they allow individuals to get engrossed in that view, but they don’t promote violence.
“An attack here is possible; I think it’s likely within the next five years. Not at that scale, but something will happen. Already few mosques have been attacked, there have been isolated incidents.”
Patrick Lamb, 74, manager of a hatmakers shop
“I did feel [an attack like this] was going to happen sometime. People can be frightened of multiculturalism, afraid of outsiders and don’t assimilate well. If it’s handled well it works beautifully. But I didn’t think it would be such a bloody reaction. I can accept that what happens on one side of terror can happen on the other side of terror.
“The fact that it happened in Norway, the most liberal of countries, means it could happen anywhere. [In the UK] there is an unspoken fear that we’re being overrun by immigrants. They live cheek by jowl but they don’t mix.”
Elizabeth Delves. Edgware Road, London, UK. July 26th 2011.
Elizabeth Delves, 31, teacher
“On the whole I think (multiculturalism) works. I work with young people from all sorts of different nationalities and they all get on really well. It definitely can work. You’re always going to get animosity – you can get animosity amongst any group, whether it be about ethnicity, whether it be religion… it could be anything. But this generation is much more open-minded.
“It definitely could happen here. People like that just need an excuse to do these sorts of things.”
Dr. Taj Hargey, chairman and chief executive of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford and imam
"We should be vigilant about Muslim extremists but we should be vigilant about all extremists. We’re so concerned about Muslim extremists, but seem to be unperturbed by right-wing fascists. This guy in Norway labels himself as a Christian conservative. We have Islamist terrorists – why don’t we call these people Christianist terrorists?
“In Britain you don’t have this culture of random violence… but we’re in for a rough time. The government and the press need to go after the English Defence League and the British National Party with same vigor as they’re going after al-Qaida and the Taliban and militants.”
English Defence League statement
The rightwing English Defence League issued a statement the day after the attacks in Norway, saying: "Yesterday's tragic events are an alarming eye-opener as to what could happen within our own shores if we are not careful and don't clamp down on groups and individuals that express extremist beliefs, be it Islamic or far-right extremist views."
David Arnott for msnbc.com
Mohammed al-Hussein stands in front of his convertible near Edgware Road in London.
One day after that, the EDL issued a second statement defending itself after it emerged that Breivik claimed to have had contact with the EDL: "No form of terrorism can ever be justified and the taking of innocent lives can never be justified. We are proud to stand strongly against all forms of extremism and we will continue to speak out against the biggest terrorist threat to our nation, Islamic extremism."
Mohammed Al Hussein, 60, retired executive
“There is surprisingly unfertile ground for that in the U.K., though there is a strong, widespread conservative attitude that Old England is under threat. But people here have come to terms with it (multiculturalism).”