Nuclear Weapons

Diseases of the Rich and Diseases of the Poor

51The Review of Religions – March 2005 Nine hundred years ago thegreat physician of Islam, Al Asuli, writing in distant Bokhara divided his pharmacopoeia into two parts: ‘Diseases of the Rich’ and ‘Diseases of the Poor’. If Al Asuli were alive today and could write about the afflictions of mankind, I am sure he would again plan to divide his pharmacopoeia into the same two parts. Half his treatise would speak of the one affliction of rich humanity – the psychosis of nuclear annihilation. The other half would be concerned with the one affliction of the poor – their hunger and near-starvation. He might perhaps add that the two afflictions spring from a common cause – the excess of science in one case and the lack of science in the other. At least so far as the problem of world poverty is concerned, none will question the thesis that with man’s recent mastery of science and technology there is no physical reason left for the existence of hunger and want for any part of the human race. I wish not so much to preach the Diseases Diseases of the Rich of the Poor & The following is a paper by Professor Abdus Salam (above), the Nobel Laureate scientist which was first published in the ‘Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ in 1963. It captures his zeal to exploit science for the good of all mankind rather than just the technologically advanced world. 52 The Review of Religions – March 2005 DISEASES OF THE RICH AND DISEASES OF THE POOR virtues of a scientific org a n – isation of society, but to provide a necessary objective perspective to the practical problems of science and development. I have always been puzzled by how few people among the richer nations are really aware of the intensity of world poverty. Contrasting the two ills of Al Asuli, nuclear death and starvation, it is no doubt true that from Moscow or New York, the possibility of ultimate nuclear annihilation appears grimly near. But in Khartoum or Karachi the living death of daily hunger is nearer still. Fifty per cent of people in my country of Pakistan earn and live on eight cents a d a y. Seventy-five per cent live on less than fourteen cents. This fourteen cents includes the two daily meals, clothing, shelter, and any education. To us, the unresolved conflicts of the East and the West appear as distant wearying conflicts, inevitable luxuries of a state of physical well-being. For us, the nuclear problem is tragic only in that it leads to a criminal waste of the e a r t h ’s resources. For me p e r s o n a l l y, it is tragic for it claims the last ounces of the strength of some of the greatest sages of our age – sages like Bertrand Russell – who may otherwise have preached the immediate crusade against hunger and want. But why are we poor? Mostly no doubt through our own follies. But let me humbly suggest that it may partly also be that we are financing some of the prosperity of the rich. Year after year, I have seen the cotton crop from my village in Pakistan fetch less and less money; year after year the imported fertilizer has cost more. My economist friends tell me the terms of trade are against us. Between 1955 and 1962, the commodity prices fell by seven per cent. In the same period the manufactured goods went up by ten per cent. Some courageous men have spoken against this. Paul Hoffman called it a ‘ s u b s i d y, a contribution paid by the undeveloped countries to the industrialised world.’ In 1957- 1958 the underdeveloped world 53The Review of Religions – March 2005 DISEASES OF THE RICH AND DISEASES OF THE POOR received a total of $2.4 billion in aid and lost $2 billion in import capacity (through paying more for the manufactured goods it buys and getting less for what it sells), thus washing away nearly all the sums received in aid. I am sure that even a fully armed world with the largest possible stockpiles of armaments can forego further impoverishing the poor in this way. I am sure there are enough resources, technical and material, to cure the diseases of the poor even if the rich cannot agree to cure their own a ff l i c t i o n . But first let me make my premises clear. I am not referring to science as a way of life, only to the important roles of science and technology in raising living standards rather quickly. We must all realise that this is the science of an unglamorous v a r i e t y. It consists largely of taking stock of a country’s natural resources. It consists of the long process of acquiring some of the well-known technical skills. It consists of making an imaginative assess- ment of which of the resources can be technically exploited most expeditiously, within the human and the material means at one’s disposal. U n f o r t u n a t e l y, in most unde- veloped countries there are few men who can make the right lists of priorities. This is not because they do not know the needs; it is more because what science and technology can achieve is only very vaguely comprehended. The greatest single long-range con- tribution individual scientists can make is in helping to create such men. There is fortunately more that can be accomplished sooner. First and foremost there is the need, in P. M. S. Blackett’s phrase, for a ‘world super- market’ in science and tech- n o l o g y, a comprehensive display in one place of what science and technology can achieve in raising living standards and at what cost. One of the finest initiatives to do just this has come from the United Nations Conference on the Applications of Science and Technology held 54 The Review of Religions – March 2005 DISEASES OF THE RICH AND DISEASES OF THE POOR at Geneva in February. The technical supermarket the conference unfolded will, I am sure, make rational assessment of priorities easier. But the problem does not end with a conference. Even after one knows what one wants and what one can afford, for a very long time to come developing nations shall have to rely on importing t e c h n o l o g y. The chief suppliers are technical firms of consultants and contractors. It is at this crucial stage of counsel and advice that the technical knowledge and the idealism of the scientist can help. I have nothing against technical firms as such. Some of them have done superb jobs, particularly when their tasks were clearly delineated in advance. But by the very nature of their special- isation, they are concerned with a narrow segment of development. And naturally enough, they do not possess the strongest of urg e s to help develop indigenous technical talent. An example of an alternative possibility is one of the most valuable of scientific and tech- nical ventures of recent times: the 1961 study of Pakistan’s immense salinity and water- logging problem by a team of university scientists, agricul- turalists, engineers, and hydro- logists from the U.S. led by Roger Revelle. No consulting firm could ever have assembled such diverse talents; no commercial organisation could ever inspire the same degree of devotion. I do not know what international mechanism there exists at present for assembling missions like these. I wonder if it is too much to hope that the February U.N. conference may be followed by the creation of a permanent U.N. agency on applications of science and technology. I am sure collective thinking could devise such an agency or some other means to channel the immense reservoir of idealism combined with technical competence which many groups of scientists possess. 55The Review of Religions – March 2005 DISEASES OF THE RICH AND DISEASES OF THE POOR Earlier I alluded to the immensely more important task of helping to develop first-rate men in the smaller countries themselves. The only one way to do this is to build up a true scientific tradition there. By locating international research programmes in the smaller countries, by awarding research contracts to their growing research centres, by visiting and by responding generously to their staffing requests, these incipient centres could be brought into the vigorous mainstream of science. This in the end will also bring economic salvation. I have only very briefly touched on some of the ways scientists can help. To me, the greatest portent of hope is that men of science have begun to be interested in this problem in addition to nuclear disarmament. SOME SAYINGS OF THE HOLY PROPHET OF ISLAM(SA) ON KNOWLEDGE Abu Hurairah relates that the Holy Prophet(sa) said: For him who follows a path for seeking knowledge, Allah will ease the way to Paradise. (Muslim) Abu Umamah relates that the Holy Prophet(sa) said: A learned one is as much above a worshipper as I am above the least of you; and he added: Allah, His angels and all those in the heavens and the earth even the ants in their heaps and the fish in the water call down blessings on those who instruct people in beneficial knowledge. (Tirmidhi) Abdullah Ibn Amir Ibn ‘As relates that he heard the Holy Prophet(sa) say: Allah will not roll up knowledge by withdrawing it from people but will put it out of reach through the death of divines with the result that when there are no divines, people will adopt ignorant ones as their leaders and will ask them for guidance and they will render their opinions without knowledge. They will be astray themselves and will lead others astray. (Bukhari and Muslim)