Bjørn Ihler was already involved in community work when he came face-to-face with far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik.
Norwegian-born Ihler survived Breivik’s 2011 attack on Utøya, which claimed the lives of 69 people.
The island was where Norway’s Labour Youth Party held its annual summer camp.
“Breivik came out to the island because he opposed our ideologies of believing in the equality of every human being, believing that every human being is valuable,” Ihler explains.
“The experience did change me, it’s been a difficult path back to life after feeling like I was dead. I came to terms with the fact that this was my last moment. And rebuilding from that has been an enormous challenge.”
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more
“I went to the first imprisonment meeting that was open to the public,” Ihler recalls. “And I had a chance to sit in the courtroom and see Breivik and face my fears. I was terrified at that moment when Breivik came into the room.
“But then I realised he was just another human being. There he was in chains, he couldn’t do anything. He couldn’t harm me. And from that moment on it became more important to me to challenge people who hold similar beliefs to Breivik, who believe that because their views are different to the views of others they can kill people.
“I think staying true to who I was and building further from that moment instead of letting it destroy me has been incredibly important.
“Before the attack I’d been working against racism and more inclusion and unity in our communities. Now I’ve taken that one step further in the fight against extremism and the hatred that drove the man who did this massacre.”
Ihler is one of the select few chosen by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan to form a taskforce to fight terrorism, called “Extremely Together”.
Speaking to The Huffington Post UK at the One Young World summit, Ihler said it is important to recognise “even when we speak of Islamic extremism in the West, to a very large extent the perpetrators are local, they grew up in the communities they attack”.
“So even though we try to externalise it by saying it’s Islamic extremism, and they are second generation immigrants and things like that, we need to realise our own responsibilities as individuals, as societies, of taking care of everyone and removing the root causes that are driving people into extremism.
“I think we all have a role to play in that. We have to recognise terrorists come from our own neighbourhoods.”