Sunday, April 09, 2006

Nobel Laureate Professor Salam proudly dressed in a dastaar and traditional Punjabi attire, at the 1979 Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo

Abdus Salam was born in Jhang, a small town in what is now Pakistan, in 1926. His father was an official in the Department of Education in a poor farming district. His family has a long tradition of piety and learning.
The Les Prix Nobel, a publication containing the biographies of Nobel Laureates, provides the following information on Professor Salam:
"When he cycled home from Lahore, at the age of 14, after gaining the highest marks ever recorded for the Matriculation Examination at the University of the Punjab, the whole town turned out to welcome him. He won a scholarship to Government College, University of the Punjab, and took his MA in 1946. In the same year he was awarded a scholarship to St. John's College, Cambridge, where he took a BA (honours) with a double First in mathematics and physics in 1949. In 1950 he received the Smith's Prize from Cambridge University for the most outstanding pre-doctoral contribution to physics. He also obtained a PhD in theoretical physics at Cambridge; his thesis, published in 1951, contained fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics which had already gained him an international reputation."
"Salam returned to Pakistan in 1951 to teach mathematics at Government College, Lahore, and in 1952 became head of the Mathematics Department of the Punjab University. He had come back with the intention of founding a school of research, but it soon became clear that this was impossible. To pursue a career of research in theoretical physics he had no alternative at that time but to leave his own country and work abroad. Many years later he succeeded in finding a way to solve the heartbreaking dilemma faced by many young and gifted theoretical physicists from developing countries. At the ICTP, Trieste, which he created, he instituted the famous "Associateships" which allowed deserving young physicists to spend their vacations there in an invigorating atmosphere, in close touch with their peers in research and with the leaders in their own field, losing their sense of isolation and returning to their own country for nine months of the academic year refreshed and recharged."
The International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy, was undoubtedly one of Professor Salam's greatest legacies. "His dreams came true here," says Saif. "This was the culmination of his vision for developing science and allowed gifted scientists from the Third World to interact with top scientists from advanced nations, without having to forsake their native countries."
Since 1957 he has been Professor of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College, London, and since 1964 has combined this position with that of Director of the ICTP, Trieste.For more than forty years he has been a prolific researcher in theoretical elementary particle physics. He has either pioneered or been associated with all the important developments in this field, maintaining a constant and fertile flow of brilliant ideas. For the past thirty years he has used his academic reputation to add weight to his active and influential participation in international scientific affairs. He has served on a number of United Nations committees concerned with the advancement of science and technology in developing countries.To accommodate the astonishing volume of activity that he undertakes, Professor Salam cuts out such inessentials as holidays, parties and entertainments. Faced with such an example, the staff of the Centre find it very difficult to complain that they are overworked.He has a way of keeping his administrative staff at the ICTP fully alive to the real aim of the Centre - the fostering through training and research of the advancement of theoretical physics, with special regard to the needs of developing countries. Inspired by their personal regard for him and encouraged by the fact that he works harder than any of them, the staff cheerfully submit to working conditions that would be unthinkable here at the (International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna (IAEA). The money he received from the Atoms for Peace Medal and Award he spent on setting up a fund for young Pakistani physicists to visit the ICTP. He uses his share of the Nobel Prize entirely for the benefit of physicists from developing countries and does not spend a penny of it on himself or his family.
Professor Salam's achievements established him as an integral part of the international scientific community. He became renowned as an ambassador of science, and perhaps more importantly, a humanitarian who sought to bring people together as opposed to dividing them. He was also a staunch advocate of scientific awareness and development in Third World countries as a fundamental basis for socio-economic progression.
"Our discipline of Physics is an extremely rich discipline. It not only provides us with the understanding of the basic laws of nature, it also is the basis of most of modern high technology. This remark is relevant to our developing countries," commented Professor Salam in a 1986 lecture at the ICTP in Trieste. "One may note that because of this connection with high technology and materials' exploitation, physics is the 'science of wealth creation' par excellence. This is even in contrast to chemistry and biology which - though as important for development - are 'survival sciences'. This is in the sense that chemistry and medical sciences provide the survival basis of food production as well as of pharmaceutical expertise. Physics takes over at the next level of sophistication. If a nation wants to become wealthy, it must acquire a high degree of expertise in physics, both pure and applied."
Despite his quest to educate law-makers, in developing nations, about the critical role that science would play in their economic advancement, Professor Salam acknowledged it was no easy task. In a 1981 interview with Denzil Peiris, the Professor responded to the question of why a lack of interest in science and technology exists in the Third World.
"The older I grow the more I feel amazed at the blindness of the developing world towards these really fundamental issues," replied the Professor. "This is a very difficult matter. You see I don't know how you can create, at a certain time, a class of men (of administrators interested in science) and let them have their head. It may happen by accident. For example take this country [Great Britain] in the last century. How did it consciously or unconsciously create the empire? There were men here who were motivated. But why? Whenever I visit the gaunt landscape of our Northern Frontier (of Pakistan), the thought comes to me: There used to be one Englishman in this whole division and he had the guts to say, 'Here, I am the ruler.' What was impelling these men and where have they gone now? The same thing is true for science and technology. Either you get men who acquire science and technology, and apply it in the service of society or you don't. I can see some countries are coming up in this respect."
"In the country of his birth and citizenship, no scientific or other institution, building, or even a street, bears his name. School text books do not mention him, nor are children told about him by their teachers. Fake heroes are spattered all over the place but Salam is never to be found. Reflecting the disdain felt by much of Pakistani academia, a former vice-chancellor of my university scornfully asked in a meeting: 'Who is Salam? What has he done for Pakistan?'" observed Pervez Hoodbhoy, of the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, at the 1997 Commemoration Day Tribute to Professor Salam at the ICTP.
When Professor Salam ran for the post of Director General of UNESCO, he needed an endorsement from his country of citizenship. "Pakistan refused to endorse his candidacy," says Saif. "He was awarded an O.B.E. by the Queen of England and had lived in England long enough to get citizenship there, but he didn't want it; the Italian government, because of his work at the ICTP, were also offering him citizenship, but, again, he never accepted it (even after Pakistan refused to endorse him)."
The situation didn't end with a lack of endorsement from the government; propoganda within Pakistan began to emerge saying that Professor Salam was working as a spy for the Indians. Certain people in government were mad he didn't want to have anything to do with the construction of a nuclear weapon. The truth is that it went against everything he stood for and believed in. His concept of science was using it to uplift mankind - and not the other way around. It even went against his name, which in Arabic means 'Servant of Peace'."
Further reasons for the hostility directed towards Professor Salam in his own country, may be found in Professor Hoodbhoy's speech on November 21, 1997 at Trieste:
"Before 1974, Salam was legally a Muslim in Pakistan, but subsequently he became a non-Muslim in a state where non-Muslims are, by law, second class citizens. Subsequent to his excommunication by an act of the Pakistani national parliament, and of his Ahmadiyya sect, Salam resigned as Adviser to the President. Although he maintained contacts with the government, scientific institutions, and individuals, in effect he ceased to exercise significant authority," explains Hoodbhoy.
"Salam never accepted this excommunication," continues Hoodbhoy. "Subsequently (I think), he developed an intense pride in his heritage and did what no one else - Muslim or other - had done. From dry and dusty history books he rescued the scientific and intellectual achievements of Muslim intellectual giants of a thousand years ago and turned them into symbols of cultural pride. The crucially important thing is that he emphasized these achievements as belonging to the realm of the rational. Salam's purpose was to rekindle a sense of pride and hope amongst those who had long lost both. He did succeed, but the victory was partial and temporary. No mortal can fight the forces of history, especially when they are orientated towards the past rather than the future."
Professor Hoodbhoy goes back to Professor Salam's excommunication of 1974 and looks at the issue from a historical perspective:
"Certainly, the doctrinal differences between Ahmadiyyas and mainstream Muslims are not of the slightest concern to us here - they are just as arcane and impossible to resolve as the differences between, say, Catholics or Protestants or Anabaptists or Calvinists. It is usual, as in the Middle Ages of Europe, for theological disputes to be resolved by the use of force with the weaker side being exterminated or terrorized into fleeing. This is the legacy that every religion has left to mankind. To prevent the majority from slaughtering the minority was precisely the historical reason for the emergence of secularism in Europe. Tragically, the Pakistani state moved the other way and became a party to a theological dispute which had simmered for many years. As it turned out, 1974 was the first step down the slippery slope, the bottom of which is not yet in sight. More and more sects and communities are facing the threat of persecution and possible excommunication as the fires of religious extremism burn even higher."
Abdus Salam died on November 21, 1996.


At 2:54 AM, Blogger santhubabu said...

Thanks for the blog. I learn about Abdul Salam and his service for peace. I salute him. Thanks again for the wonderful blog and your blog series.


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