Friday, February 8, 2013

Dr. Abdus Salam and his Science of Development

Intellectually Pakistan is quite a barren country.

One reason, it has never encouraged the spirit of free inquiry.

Instead, it goes for short-cuts to grab “progress,” “growth,” “development,” -- thinking them as separate manifestations having no links with knowledge.

In the wake of 9/11, in a local mosque in Shahdrah, Lahore, it was prayed: O God, give us all that America has achieved!

Professor Dr. Abdus Salam too contributed to that short-cut thinking. Especially during Zia-ul-Haq regime and at his instance, there were hectic efforts to promote the education of Science and Technology in Pakistan.

I had reservations on that approach, and wrote the following letter to Dr. Salam:

Lahore, Pakistan
May 2, 1988

Dear Sir,

Of course, it is not pleasant to differ with our ideas, but one cannot help, he ought to disclose his differences honestly.

You are of the clear opinion that to attain the present level of developed nations, Pakistan cannot do without Science and Technology. These are the only weapons, making use of which different forms of poverty can be fought and eradicated.

This needs no argument to convince. But to explicate the entanglements of the problem, I want to bring into light some important side-issues:

1) Present Science and Technology are the phenomena appeared as a logical development of a particular civilization. Dialectically, it is not possible to put aside both of them from the complex of social, historical and philosophical milieu of their birth-place.

2) Material welfare and intellectual enlightenment are inseparable. It is one process. One is no guarantee for the other. However, in a conscious situation, as ours is, mind should come first.

3) As the present stage of human history, things (commodities, machines, etc.) are like quanta carrying philosophical potential. They can, and do engulf human beings. Philosophically speaking, in the absence of a total scheme of things, things make a scheme of their own, placing human beings at the lowest.

4) Against this background, my view is that along with the acquisition of imported and indigenously worked out Science and Technology, we shall have to pay equal attention to effect an intellectual renaissance. It is said: Possessing a thing is of no merit, merit consists in it proper use. If we are ignorant as to the use and place of Science and Technology in our philosophical world view (if any!), their acquisition, and that too partially, would do us no good. I am not rejecting, just trying to evaluate them. Further, my emphasis is on creating an intellectual and philosophical atmosphere in which scientific inquiry and thereby Science and Technology could flourish.

The exploitation of the South by the North in terms of Science and Technology is evident. But the struggle of the South has different aspects. Exploiters obstruct transfer of Science and Technology to the South; the ruling elites of the South protect the interests of their masters for double exploitation of the masses of their countries; so, they are not sincere in acquiring Science and Technology. Neither the ruling elites of the South nor their masters like to see the people liberating themselves from the bondage of intellectual backwardness, rather they suppress such attempts inhumanly; also for this reason, the ruling elites of the South do not seek collaboration of the masses of their countries in the so-called struggle for Science and Technology. They have fear of ‘Science and Technology’ itself. Its acquisition is, in fact, the demand and need of the masses of the Third World countries.

In short, the problem of acquisition of Science and Technology is connected with the problem of Revolution of the masses, for which, in my view, intellectual enlightenment and material development should go hand in hand to achieve positive results.

Moreover, I want to draw your attention to the specific state of education of Philosophy and social sciences. As far as physical and biological sciences are concerned, struggle under your guidance has already begun. The state of education of Philosophy and social sciences is the worst as compared to other sciences. Inability in any other field qualifies a student for Philosophy and social sciences. There are no competent teachers, no worthwhile institutions for higher learning and research. Even the “social scientists” remain intellectually as backward as any ignoramus.

Under these circumstances, emphasizing the education of scientific and technical subjects is not convincing, whereas the whole state of education is in doldrums. At best, it shows the absence and need of a vital philosophy of education.

It is hoped you would be kind so as to give serious thought to these reflections, and I will be awaiting your views.


Khalil Ahmad

On June 26, 1988, the unexpected reply made its way to me (wherein I was wrongly addressed as Dr. Ahmad!). It included a copy of Dr. Salam’s book, IDEALS AND REALITIES: Selected Essays of Abdus Salam (Second Edition), Editor: C H Lai (World Scientific, Singapore, 1987). Its contents are copied below:

10 June, 1988

Dear Dr. Ahmad,

Professor Abdus Salam has asked me to write to you and thank you for your kind and interesting letter of 2 May 1988.

I read your letter with much pleasure, and with regard to your remarks, I would like to say the following:

1. Science is culture and throughout history it has always been an integrated part of human life. It is unique and the same for everyone, for the rich and for the poor and everyone should therefore have access to it.

2. It should be realized that Science is the most important guide for the development of a country. It should therefore exist at a very early stage and before any other step towards development can be taken. The concept of science for development is indeed a very important aspect of the wider question of economic, social and industrial development.

3. Nowadays, there are not different models of development for different countries; it is only science and science-based technology to which all the attention should be paid. This does not of course preclude the efforts which should be made for the development of social studies, literature and other related subjects in any society. For example, an important issue of development policy is the language and the languages spoken within a country. Very much attention should be paid to this issue.

4. In the recent past science and its development has been completely neglected in developing countries. These countries should realize that the solutions to their problems t(l)ies in creating a strong scientific basis upon which the development process can be built. For the time being this is the only way towards development, as was the case in the West in early days.

Having said all that, one easily notes that in developing countries one should pay much more attention to science and science education along with the development of other disciplines with the culture of a society, as you have pointed out.

Professor Salam has discussed this issue in detail in his Book, “Ideals and Realities”. Under separate cover I am sending you a copy of the book.

I thank you once again for your kind attention and hope to hear from you again.

With best regards,

Yours sincerely,
H. R. Dalafi   

Here is the scanned copy of the letter:

With a “Thank you” letter to Dr. Salam, this correspondence closed.

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