Dr Salam honoured

Updated 07 Dec 2016

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IT took 37 long years, but a historic wrong is finally on course to being set right. On Monday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced he had given his approval to rename the National Centre for Physics at Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam University after Dr Abdus Salam, who in 1979 became Pakistan’s first ever Nobel laureate by winning the prestigious international award in the physics category.

The premier also approved a grant of five annual fellowships in Dr Salam’s name at overseas universities for Pakistani doctoral candidates in physics.

That it has taken nearly four decades for this country to honour a globally renowned scientist who was one of its own, is a sad reflection of the priorities that hold sway here, and that have diminished our standing in the world.

For Dr Salam was an Ahmadi, a persecuted minority in Pakistan, and his faith rather than his towering achievements was the yardstick by which he was judged.

His desire to use his fame to drive the engine of scientific research in his native country was spurned; the self-appointed defenders of the faith in Pakistan were determined not to let this land be ‘sullied’ by the priceless gift of knowledge that Dr Salam wanted to bring to it.

In countries less blinded by prejudice and bigotry, Dr Salam’s would have been an inspirational story, a staple of school textbooks, and a name displayed on many a scientific institute of learning — but that would have been a Pakistan we have not known for decades now.

Born into a family of modest financial means in Jhang, Punjab, Dr Salam’s academic brilliance took him all the way to Cambridge where he won the Adams Prize for distinguished research in mathematics.

To put that in perspective, the celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking is another recipient. Despite his pioneering work during the course of a career that contributed to the theoretical framework of even recent scientific discoveries, Dr Salam remained ‘tainted’ by his religious affiliation in his homeland.

While the state’s move to give Dr Salam his due is very welcome, despite coming 20 years after his death, it is worth pointing out that we treat our only other Nobel laureate, Malala Yousafzai, in a similarly dismissive manner and for equally perverse, though different, reasons.

Perhaps Pakistanis should ask themselves, why do we manifest such unthinking hostility towards fellow citizens when their achievements are feted by the rest of the world?

Published in Dawn December 7th, 2016