I've been there.
I've seen the lines of ambulances arrive, youth covered in emergency blankets, the blood of friends, breaking down in tears and panic, trauma and stress just having seen friends and peers slaughtered by the violence of extremists. I've witnessed families fall victim to terrorism. I've seen parents arrive at the scene searching for their child in the crowd of survivors. I've watched as their eyes went dark as it dawned upon them their child was no longer there, that their child was either dead or taken to hospital. I've watched as they realised life would never ever again be the same. The attack in Manchester means there are thousands more who share these experiences.
In 2011 we, the youth of Norway, were targeted in the terrorist attack at Utøya Island. I was there, seeing friends murdered at the hands of Anders Behring Breivik, watching as he took aim at me. This attacker in Norway struck at the core of what it means to be young in this era, just as did the attacker last night in Manchester. This was an attack on what it means to be young, an attack on what it means to be free, an attack on what it means to be British and European.
"This was an attack on innocence, on joy and on freedom."
As we settle after this attack, as we try to comprehend and understand, we must recognise the importance of innocence. This was not only an attack on the liberty of youth, it was an attack on the their innocence. Extremists, regardless of what worldview they come from, fear freedom, they fear liberty, and they fear the innocence of youth. Only through trauma do young people begin to fear. Only through fear do they begin to hate. Only through hate can extremists recruit. If we have any response to this barbarity, it must be to prevent hate, to undermine fear, to heal trauma and to preserve innocence.
I'm spending this week at the Oslo Freedom Forum, joining forces with hundreds of defenders of human rights to stand up against the injustices of this world, against attacks like this, attacks on freedom. It's empowering and inspiring to spend a day like this in such company. It shows that there is hope, that there are values worth standing up for, values we need to keep in hand as we fight to stop those who think some humans are more worthy of rights, of life and liberty than others.
I've devoted my life since the 2011 attack to standing up, to making sure we do everything we can to end extremist violence, to ensure that as few as possible lose their friends, children and loved ones to terrorism. To ensure that we won't have to tell another family that we don't know where their child is or whether she will ever come back home. This is what I do, this is how I carry on. It has not been an easy journey, nor will it be the path for everyone who experienced what I did.
"It is however important for me to underline the fact that it is possible to live on, to live a full life, to come back to life after attacks like these."
For many people today, that does not feel true, nor will it feel true for the months to come. There will be long nights of nightmares, of fear, of horrors and painful pictures. There will be longing for those we have lost, there will be pain and then there will be healing. Slowly life will return, slowly we will heal and our lives will be an act of defiance, a proof we stood up against immeasurable pain, hate and violence. That we prevailed and we won. We must support the survivors through this process.
Back in 2011, I was fortunate enough to live in the UK. After spending the summer in Norway, I was welcomed back that autumn to a community that supported me, that helped me heal. It's painful now to see that community suffer a similar fate. To those of you who find life difficult today, to those who were there, who lost loved ones, to those of you who around the UK are feeling lost, afraid and alone after the attack last night, I want to say,
"We are here, we stand together. "
Reach out and ask for help if you need it, and help will come.
I have walked this path before. Today I commit myself to supporting the youth of Manchester, to the people of the UK in their recovery.
As one survivor to a community of survivors, we stand Extremely Together.
Bjørn Ihler is an activist, speaker, academic and artist working to promote peace and human rights. His work is influenced by his experiences as a survivor of the attack on Utøya Island in Norway on 22/7/2011. He is one of 10 Extremely Together young leaders, a program managed by the Kofi Annan Foundation and supported by One Young World and the European Commission.