PAKISTANI farmer Arshad Mehmood has been filled with pride since his son stabbed two people outside the former offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris last week, in the latest attack to expose the violent consequences of blasphemy allegations.
Zaheer Hassan Mehmood, who was born in Pakistan, has confessed to the attack, saying he was motivated by the magazine’s recent republication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, which are proscribed in Islam.
“In my opinion, what he did was very good,” Arshad told AFP.
The republication, marking the start of the trial over a deadly 2015 attack on the magazine’s previous premises, sparked condemnation across the Islamic world and protests throughout Pakistan.
The younger Mehmood has since been charged with “attempted murder with relation to a terrorist enterprise”.
But back in his rural village of Kothli Qazi in Punjab province, his family and neighbours are heralding him as a defender of the Islamic faith.
“The person who kills those who disrespect the prophet goes to heaven, and his whole family goes to heaven,” Arshad said.
“Because of this, I feel very good that my son did such a good deed.”
The assailant’s mother Rukhsana Begum added that her son had told the family about the attacks in advance, and had asked for their prayers.
“He told us that on Friday after the Friday prayers he would do it. He also called one of his friends and told him that he saw the holy prophet in his dream and he will go and do this,” said Begum.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in ultra-conservative Pakistan, where anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or Islamic figures can face the death penalty.
Prayer leaders and political parties across the country frequently rally around the issue, while politicians have been assassinated, European countries threatened with nuclear annihilation, and students lynched over blasphemy allegations.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has also participated in the crusade.
In a speech to the UN General Assembly that was broadcast on the day of the latest attack — but recorded beforehand — he blasted Charlie Hebdo for re-running the cartoons, saying “wilful provocations” should be “universally outlawed”.
Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director at Amnesty International, noted a “cultural gap” fuelling the fury.
“In France you have the tradition of satirising religion and people not feeling any offence for it,” he said. “Whereas for many Pakistanis… any insult to the prophet is considered the most grievous insult there is and is perceived to be more harmful than violence itself.”
The stabbing came just three weeks into a trial in Paris of the suspected accomplices to the 2015 attacks, which included the Charlie Hebdo attack, the killing of a policewoman, and a hostage-taking at a Jewish supermarket which claimed four lives.
Back in Kothli Qazi, the latest attack triggered celebrations, Arshad Mehmood said, with neighbours flocking to their home to congratulate the family.
“The whole village is extremely proud of what he’s done,” said neighbour Haji Qaiser.
“Wherever you go, they are talking about it.”