Harry Potter, as most of us know, was the boy who survived a deadly attack by the evilest, most ruthless enemy of his time: Lord Voldemort. Nobody had ever survived once Voldemort had decided their fate, but baby Harry, shielded by his mother, did. He was called The Boy Who Lived, “in hushed and reverential tones”. This week we celebrate our own Girl Who Lived, Malala Yousafzai, and her triumph for women, freedom, education and Pakistan. I write on a wave of euphoria. I keep imagining the people around Malala and how jubilant they undoubtedly must be. In my mind I am envisioning a parade, people celebrating in the streets, the Prime Minister making a speech on television about how proud we all are of the Girl Who Lived, who was shot point-blank by armed men for the crime of going to school. She fought her way back from the brink of death and ended up winning the world’s most acclaimed prize for peace. The youngest person, let alone female, to win the Nobel in the history of the prize. And she is Pakistani! Jubilant: that happy word that bubbles up joy; one should be jubilant. And yet, it saddens me to see we aren’t.

For how can we ever be happy? The two Nobel Prize winners from this country remain an Ahmedi and a little girl respectively. What about Eidhi, nominated so many times? What has Malala really done? She is a CIA stooge as it is, the bullets shot into her head were rubber and the entire episode was an elaborate hoax worthy of Sherlock Holmes’ faux-death escapade. He tumbled down a waterfall with his arch-enemy Moriarty; Malala decided to have a go at international fame by colluding with a secret service and arranging to be pretend-attacked by the Taliban. She hasn’t done anything special. Only defy a deeply misogynist culture and a deadly terrorist organization for her right to an education. Only put her money where her mouth was, and instead of preaching from the sidelines actually go out into the world and stand up for what she believed in. She paid a heavy price for it, and if she has received fame and fortune then she deserves it. She is, by all accounts, poised, intelligent and down-to-earth. She has met heads of state and addressed audiences all over the world in her shalwar kameez and chadar on her head. She hasn’t gone on a diet, highlighted her hair, acquired a faux British accent and transformed herself into another glamorous celebrity—which is what one would probably have done if the sole purpose of orchestrating a near-death experience was to achieve celebrity. She seems to be exactly who she is—a young middle class girl with the heart of a lion.

But as the rappers say so wisely, haters gonna hate. Which means that the cynics and haters will carry on like that forever. We can feel awfully clever and urbane as we raise an eyebrow and grudgingly say that this is good news, one supposes. That we hope Malala uses her prize money well. We all know the truth though—that no matter what she does with it short of spending it all on some undeniably Good Deed, we will still find something to sniff at about her, or anyone else who makes this country proud. We are a proud nation of buts. Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s Oscar? That’s very nice, but you know she didn’t compensate the women featured in her documentary properly. Dr Salam’s Nobel Prize? Lovely, but you know he was a big old kaafir anyway, so it doesn’t even count because we all know only Sunni Muslims are Pakistanis. Pakistani actors performing at the Globe in London? Good grief, bunch of mirasis.

We keep looking for heroes, and instead we keep finding toads. The trouble is, when a hero is standing right in front of us, we are too mean of spirit, too Scrooge-hearted to actually fete them. We nitpick and criticize as if we were the best nation on earth, full of philanthropy, sportsman spirit and ethics, and nobody could match up to our lofty standard.  I could be kinder—maybewe’re just so used to bad news we don’t know how to respond when good things happen. We’re suspicious of everything, we trust nobody. Which is why our everyday heroes—the policemen, teachers, doctors, activists who doggedly keep trying to make things better—go unsung. If we can’t celebrate the enormous honour and joy of a Pakistani girl making history, we certainly will never be able to recognize the people who have spent their lives working unnoticed and unrewarded for their cause.

People sniffily say that Malala has founded her entire cause on making Pakistan look bad. I wonder at this disingenuous naiveté, for what else could it be? Surely anyone but the purely innocent can continue to live in a country where bodyguards kill people on the street, mobs burn down entire colonies and governments sanction the police murder of civilians with nary a critical word. We don’t need anyone to make Pakistan look bad; we’re undeniably pretty bad all by ourselves. If one is truly concerned with the “image” of Pakistan in the world, then why don’t we try putting our faux-intellectualism and misdirected pique aside and celebrating the incredible girl that our country has produced? The teenager who has been honoured all over the world for the very things we want to be recognized for: courage, freedom and justice. This year’s Nobel committee has placed a particular kind of trust in the subcontinent this year by giving the peace prize to Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi; people who have dedicated their lives to the rights of children. Education for all? Childhoods free of fear and violence? That’s a kind of future for our little ones that we can all look forward to. That’s the future our laureates envision, and are fighting to make happen. If only we could too. To the Girl Who Lived; may you prosper, and may we all one day be able to just be happy.

 The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.

m.malikhussain@gmail.com