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December 7, 2016

How to honour Salam

Editorial

 
December 7, 2016

Ordinarily, naming a physics centre and physics scholarships after the only Nobel Laureate a country has in physics or any other field of knowledge would not be deserving of praise, since it would be the most natural thing to happen. But Pakistan is far from an ordinary country. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the government have done themselves honour by taking this step. For many decades some of the leading centers of excellence in science in Italy, Germany, UK, India and other places have carried the name of the man who changed his field forever. Dr Abdus Salam was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics back in 1979, by which time he had already left the country after Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims in 1974. From 1960 to 1974, Abdus Salam served his nation as a teacher and as a key scientific adviser to the government helping to set up the PAEC and Pakistan Space and Nuclear Programme. When he attempted to visit educational institutions in his home country after claiming the Nobel Prize he was prevented from entering Punjab University and other centres by the Jamaat-e-Islami’s student wing, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, and associated groups. The huge loss we inflicted on ourselves has never really been understood. The only hint of government recognition Abdus Salam got was the issuance of a stamp in his name in 1998 after the testing of nuclear weapons. We must answer for how we have tried to erase Abdus Salam from our history. Even as the rest of the world was updating textbooks in light of his theories, we were pretending as if he didn’t exist. Our mistreatment of Abdus Salam is a blight that cannot be washed away by one tiny and belated action.

How Pakistan has treated it most illustrious son is equalled by how we have treated science in this country. Those who banished the likes of Abdus Salam are still around in our educational institutions and still stifling genuine research. Dr Salam’s former pupil, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, has been among the few who have bravely and tirelessly campaigned for genuine science, pointing out how scientific thinking has been decimated in the country with money spent on superstitions parading as scientific research while real scientific research is hardly existent. We can show real respect to Abdus Salam by showing a commitment to rational scientific thought over superstition.   For this a lot more is required than renaming a centre after him. There has to be a deliberate and uncompromisingly aggressive movement to introduce reason and true science in our minds, particularly those of our young ones. This means fighting bigotry on many fronts. This is made difficult by a climate of political opportunism, where every problem facing this country becomes a means to get to the top of the ladder without trying to change people’s consciousness and with every effort made to turn our youth into fanatic worshippers of false charisma. For a while now, we may perhaps see Dr Abdus Salam celebrated in the media – the same media whose role has been nothing short of criminal in building false heroes and promoting and championing superstition and pseudo-science. The best way to honour Abdus Salam’s memory is to be rid of hypocrisies and committing ourselves to a struggle for true change.