These days I walk in a state of mental enslavement to Laurent Gayer, a member of the National Centre of Scientific Research in Paris, who has written the final book on Karachi. His Karachi: Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City (2014) will never be improved upon as an examination of the violent mind. Among many nuggets scattered in his work, one is about early student politics in the city: “[A] coalition of progressive groups formed an electoral alliance (the Progressive Students Alliance) and managed to defeat the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) at Karachi University’s students’ union elections in 1975-1976. However, the IJT managed to regain control over KU’s students’ union the following year. In this rise to power, the IJT relied upon the support of science students, a trend which is not specific to Pakistan (among students, most recruits of Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian Islamist groups have come from science, engineering, law and medicine). Progressive and left organisations, for their part, found their strongest support in the Faculty of Arts.”
However, one Pakistani nuclear physicist, Pervez Hoodbhoy, recently dubbed “jahil (illiterate)” by a chief reporter on TV, has not succumbed to the trend. His book, Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality (1991), tells us that the trend is new as in antiquity, when philosophy and mathematics went together, most Muslim scientists were apostatised and punished by their co-religionists.
Pervez, whom I admire shamelessly, is an educationist too, and got put off by a 1987 conference on “scientific miracles” under Islamist dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, where Pakistani scientists mixed religious miracle with scientific discovery. Encouraged by funding of Rs 66 lakh (half of which was provided by Saudi Arabia), our guys flew off the handle and talked rubbish about science and demeaned the divine writ of the Quran.
A scientist from Al-Azhar misinterpreted the Quran to claim that mountains were like nails holding the earth down. An Egyptian engineer found that the empty copper shells of armour-piercing ammunition used in the Arab-Israeli war were intended by Allah to destroy “djinns”. Another 1986 conference held by the Pakistan Association of Scientists and Scientific Professions was regaled with a formula by Arshad Ali Beg of the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research to arrive at the “munafiqat” (hypocrisy) ratio of a given society.
Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission chief Salim Mehmud tried to shine too, by making a hash of the theory of relativity by linking it with the “mairaj” (ascension) of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Another senior nuclear scientist, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, proposed that all energy-related problems could be solved by taming the “djinns”, because they were made of fire. Many others, lured by the limelight, delivered gems of medieval gibberish in the name of continued…