With nearly 12 months having passed since December 16, 2014, in a milieu where terrorism and violence have become the norm, there comes a time when we must stop, rise up and question: haven’t we had enough? Are we going to watch passively as humanity bleeds? Do we need another Army Public School (APS) to remind us of the innocent lives lost each and every day, all over the world? Are we going to be passive bystanders as the world crashes and burns?
From Apathy To Empathy (FATE) represents an attempt to counter notions of hatred, bloodshed and hostility through productive forces such as solidarity, peace and compassion. Organised by six seniors from the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), this anti-extremism campaign takes a stand against the narrative of indifference that has stemmed from exposure to the regular headlines of death from insurgency in newspapers and the internet. In a country like Pakistan,which is a perpetual target of suicide bombings and a hub of Islamist militancy, the population remains as susceptible as ever to the notion of terrorism. FATE recognises this, but chooses to focus on the way the youth of this nation can become the very agents that challenge what seems to be the indomitable entity of extremism.
Since its inception, this campaign has focused on a diverse range of domains as productive avenues of raising awareness against the forces of terrorism. To commemorate the global terror attacks on Paris, Beirut and Baghdad, FATE initiated its journey with a vigil on campus to pray for those who lost their lives in this violence, along with those who suffer each and everyday. “As several members of the LUMS community collected at the central courtyard of the campus for a few minutes of silence, we realised how something as simple as lighting candles and showing our support for our brothers and sisters suffering collective violence actually made a difference,” said Abeera Akhtar, one of the co-founders of FATE. This inspired greater and broader effort towards the cause. FATE followed this up with a whiteboard campaign featuring the hashtag #IChallengeExtremism, going all over the university and encouraging students to take a definite stance against a pervasive global phenomenon. “We had no idea our simple mission would go so viral. While we had planned to focus solely on LUMS itself, pretty soon we started receiving entries not only from different parts of Lahore, but also other cities!” Through an intensive social media campaign, FATE succeeded in getting word across internationally as well, with citizens in Germany, Greece and India standing in unity with the students of Pakistan against an issue that affects everyone.
“Our goal is to challenge the passivity that debilitates any kind of action against injustice. For that purpose, we decided to take on a holistic approach that coupled extremism with domains in Pakistan that had suffered on its account such as music, tourism, education and women empowerment,” said Samey Noor, another member of FATE. FATE has collaborated with Vilarto, a brand new start-up that aims to bring back the concert culture in Pakistan and organised a concert featuring Noori. The event was a huge success and was premised on the idea of getting people to step back into public spaces and celebratinga common love for music that had been our greatest pride before the onslaught of intense extremism over the past few years. Following this, FATE also worked with TurrLahore to arrange a tour promoting religious tolerance in Lahore, with the mission of returning to the city’s glorious and harmonious tradition of co-existence of different beliefs and ideologies. Again, the tour proved to be a triumph, giving those who attended an experience worth remembering.
Through regular focus groups held with members of the student body, the team of FATE realised the impact they were having and how to make their project could be even bigger and better. “By engaging in discussions with people from all kinds of backgrounds in LUMS, we narrowed down some common factors. It was agreed that change would work best if it stemmed from a grassroots level; this inspired our strategy to visit schools and talk to young students about something that seems like general knowledge but really is not. Everyone knows extremism is an issue; what most people do not know is what to do about it. Finding an approach that gives individuals the chance to best live up to their human potential and simultaneously make a difference is what FATE aims to teach students,” summarised Basil Saeed. FATE visited different schools as part of this project to counter extremism through education. Members of the team conducted sessions on the importance of empathy, along with the distribution of pamphlets to the students. The enthusiastic response received through these visits showed how macrocosmic a single step towards positive change can be. Based on this, FATE aims to collaborate with the viral ‘Girls at Dhabbas’ chapter of LUMS to promote a narrative of women empowerment and the conduction of uncensored debate and discussion in public spaces.
FATE serves as an inspiration for all those who feel powerless in the face of circumstance. It shows how terrorism is a problem that is not unsolvable; it only requires a change in perspective. By challenging extremism through positive, productive forces, as well as inculcating a confidence in the power of raising one’s voice against injustice, FATE shows how no effort goes unrewarded, as each revolution begins with a solitary cry.
The writer is a freelance columnist and member of FATE, a social campaign initiated by students at LUMS