There’s the Rub

Voices

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That was a dazzling move Sting made, stinging SM by moving his concert from the Arena to the Araneta Center. Arena and SM Baguio are sister companies, SM Baguio in particular being the object of ire of environmentalists after it uprooted 182 very old trees, mostly pine, to make room for expansion. The environmentalists have called for a boycott.

Arena is aghast and says that although it is a corporate sibling of SM, having the same owner, Henry Sy, it had nothing to do with the removal of the pine trees. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for Sting, the Filipinos and the world, Sting hasn’t bought the technicality. Nature will have to fall in line, retribution has come a little swifter in human form. It’s one humungous loss for the Arena, the Sting concert, in more ways than have to do with money. I’m more determined to watch the concert, even if I have to brave the Araneta Center.

What can one say? As you sow, so shall you reap. Or in this case, as you uproot, so shall you plant.

Not a little ironically, the one song that hits the nail on the head on what SM Baguio has done is not anything Sting has composed but one Joni Mitchell has. It’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” which Counting Crows made famous a few years ago. It’s based on an experience Mitchell had. She used to vacation in a blissful spot in Hawaii until one day when she looked out of her hotel window and found the trees that used to dot her line of sight gone. In its place was a parking lot. One line instantly flew to her head. Minus the expletives, it was, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot?!”

That’s the first line of a song about the things we take for granted but find precious only after they’re gone. The first stanza goes: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot/ With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot/ They took all the trees and put ’em in a tree museum/ And they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em/ Don’t it always seem to go/ That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone/ They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Look at SM Baguio and wonder if that’s not bull’s-eye. I hope Sting gets to slip that song in in his concert.

I’ve always liked Sting not just for his brilliant songs but for his brilliant causes. I thought he sang the best song in all the concerts that gushed forth after 9/11. Billy Joel of course sang the perfect one, “New York State of Mind,” 9/11 having devastated New York City not just physically but mentally. But it was Sting’s “Fragile” that gave the tragedy a more universal meaning, one that went beyond American hubris, or self-absorption, with its not very muted suggestion that when 3,000 Americans perish from a terrorists attack they are martyrs, when tens of thousands of Arabs, including children, perish from a terrorist invasion they are collateral damage.

Listen to the words: “If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one/ Drying in the color of the evening sun/ Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away/ But something in our minds will always stay/ Perhaps this final act was meant/ To clinch a lifetime’s argument/ That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could/ For all those born beneath an angry star/ Lest we forget how fragile we are.”

That’s as poignant as it comes. And true, for black or white, rich or poor, Arab or American. Thank God for people like Sting who can still make their music matter, who can still make themselves matter. Who can speak with a voice that pricks the conscience of the king.

That stings the conscience of the race.

* * *

It is poignant, it is heroic, it is inspiring. That’s the story of 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai. In case you haven’t heard of her—what rock have you just crawled out of?—Malala is the 14-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban for championing women’s education in her blog. The assassins sought her out in a school bus and shot her in the head. Miraculously, she survived, and is now out of coma, though her doctors remain watchful for possible complications.

The odiousness of the deed shocked the world and drew swift and terrible condemnation. Not least from Muslims themselves who could not imagine how anyone could postulate a God deserving of worship that would demand, and command, such slaughter. Malala herself has become something of a modern-day Anne Frank, despite having met with a less grim fate, no thanks to the murderous intent of her assailants. By her plight, she has become a living indictment of the Taliban. By her courage, she has shown the hollowness of a seemingly formidable and terrifying group.

Completely insanely, the people who shot Malala—the bullet entering her eyebrow and exiting her jaw—are irate that they have not received a “fair hearing” in the Pakistani media, and have vowed to punish the erring. Their threats have been laughed at from Islamabad to Istanbul, the media themselves vowing to blot them out of human sight and hearing. Noting the monumental irony of it, someone observed that this was a group that, after trying to silence a child for speaking her mind, now has the gall to demand to be heard by the world.

When will they learn? When you try to still a voice by terror, it cries out even more loudly to the heavens. Not unlike trumpets shattering walls, though that is not a very Islamic metaphor. It was so with Ninoy Aquino, it is so with Malala Yousufzai. In the end, it was not the guns and drones of America that brought the Taliban low. It was not the thunder of governments or of the media that laid the Taliban low. It was a wisp of a girl telling the truth in her own small way. In a way that has pricked the conscience of the king.

In a way that has stung the conscience of the world.

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