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New Tech Forecasts Religious 'Storms'


Dr. Dicky Sofjan is a core doctoral faculty of the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS), located at the Graduate School of Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Trained in international relations and focused on Muslim politics and civil society, Dr. Sofjan regularly teaches on the topic of Religion and the Politics of Multiculturalism at the Ph.D. level. The ICRS consortium is a unique Ph.D. program that celebrates religious diversity and trains roughly 65 Ph.D.s from more than ten countries. It’s a partnership of three universities and professors from several faith traditions.

Sofjan received a small grant from the U.S. State Department to build an early warning system, currently called the “Indonesian Interfaith Weather Station” (IIWS), designed to spot religious radicals and violent chatter. How might this technology help law enforcement or academics identify and arrest Muslim radicals who want to behead a priest in France; to attack tourists on a train in Germany; to drive a car into a soldier in Britain? Does it also help spot far-right groups who want to beat up Muslim immigrants?
After meeting Dr. Sofjan in Indonesia, we wanted to hear more on this early warning system idea and technology as a creative solution to religious strife in the world. So Paul Glader, TMP Executive Director and a media scholar at The Berlin School of Creative Leadership, asked Dr. Sofjan about the project.
1)   How did you come up with this idea for an “early warning system” that possibly prevents religious violence?
The idea about the early warning system came about after reading news reports on religious conflicts, while observing how measures have been taken only after the fact. I also came to realize that religious intolerance and socio-religious conflicts can often spin out of control. What then came to my mind was: Can we not do something about this? Is there any way we can actually prevent these tragic events from occurring?
I got tired of post-factum analyses, and wanted to venture into other ways of thinking about religious conflicts. I got the initial inspiration largely from learning about the tsunami early warning system, which came about after the great tsunami that took more than 100 thousand lives in December of 2004.
So, as I observed the growing intolerance and religious conflicts in Indonesia, I started to think about how to preempt, prevent and mitigate such potential "social disasters." Thus, when a call for proposals from an international agency was announced in 2011, I tested the idea and submitted a proposal. Out of more than 800 proposals submitted from around the country, the IIWS was named among the top 35 project ideas. From there I realized both the gravity and urgency of the idea, and sought ways to fund this rather “wacky’” project, as my religious-scholar friends described it.
2)   How does (or will) the technology work?

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