“We wanted to reach out to the silent majority who felt that extremism was wrong but [who] were not doing anything about it,” said Abeera Akhtar.

That’s why Akhtar and her colleagues at Pakistan’s Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) in Pakistan launched the “FATE — From Apathy to Empathy” project against extremism.

The LUMS group was one of 45 student teams from around the world that applied to this semester’s P2P (Peer to Peer): Challenging Extremism initiative. P2P is a partnership between the U.S. government and universities that asks students to design ways to counter violent extremist narratives and to reach those who might be susceptible to such messaging.

The State Department hosted final judging in February.

The LUMS team took first place, while the U.S. Military Academy at West Point placed second with a “Let’s Talk” approach.  “Faces4Heritage” earned Switzerland’s Università della Svizzera Italiana third place.

Exceeding expectations

The Pakistani team organized concerts, held workshops and visited schools to combat apathy toward violence and extremism. On Facebook, they asked people to post photos of themselves holding an anti-extremist sign including the hashtag #ChallengeExtremism.

“The success that we got from it was not expected,” Akhtar said.

“Let’s Talk”

Two women and a man onstage; one woman speaking into microphone (State Dept.)
Students discuss the Faces4Heritage initiative. (State Dept.)

With “Let’s Talk,” West Point students used social media “to make an interactive community where we could have people come together, ask questions, get answers, and receive information that was not skewed by the Islamic State [Daesh] or another extremist group,” team member Brittany Scofield said.

Already, their Facebook page has attracted over 5,000 likes and nearly 74,000 engagements. Scofield said visitors to the page appreciate the chance to offer their views.

Preserving the past … to save the future

The “Faces4Heritage” initiative raised awareness of how extremists are destroying cultural heritage. The social media effort includes the “Yes, with my face!” campaign, which empowers concerned citizens to make a statement against cultural heritage destruction.

The “Yes, with my face!” campaign lets people combine half of a photo of their face with half a photo of a destroyed antiquity to create an avatar. In just a couple of simple steps, you can create an avatar to support of the project.

Università della Svizzera Italiana faculty member Silvia De Ascaniis advised students working on the initiative. “We tried to spread out the message that who destroys the past has no future,” she said.