Where Do We Put Tamerlan Tsarnaev?

Burying Tamerlan Tsarnaev is paradoxically an act of faith and hope, affirming that a connection exists between us all.

Last Friday, the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev came to my hometown.

Worcester is some 40 miles from Boston, but it was by no means unaffected by the Marathon bombing. Worcester shares a close connection with Boston. Many in the Worcester area work in Boston and we all know the city well. People from Worcester went to the marathon, as participants or spectators, and everyone seems to know someone who was there or who lives close by. We all pray for the many who were injured. And we all grieve the murders of Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, Martin Richard, and Sean Collier.

The Boston Marathon bombing was not simply a local tragedy; it was a crime committed against our families, our neighbors, our friends.

National media reports have recently focused on protests outside the Worcester funeral home where Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s body waits for burial. But local news reporting has been far more nuanced, surveying the range of ways we as a community are working through our own feelings about the bombing and its perpetrators, all the while trying to find hope within and through our vulnerability and anger. The issue has also drawn perceptive and wry commentary, such that by columnist Diane Williamson who suggested that the body be taken by the developers pushing for a controversial slot machine initiative.

That’s the Worcester I know and love.

But the issue remains. What do we do with Tamerlan Tsarnaev?

“I do understand no one wants to associate their names with such evil events.”

So said Ruslan Tsarni, who came here to Worcester to perform the burial rites for his nephew. Death has always raised the specter of contagion — it’s one reason why we have cemeteries. But the question regarding Tamerlan Tsarnaev moves us beyond this. Intellectually, we have tried to find a place for him and his actions, speculating in alternatively careful and uneven ways about the roles he played in life: son, brother, husband, father, Chechen, Muslim, boxer, terrorist. Now the uncomfortable question confronts us immediately: Where do we put him?

If we put Tsarnaev in the ground, are we allowing him a permanent presence in our midst? Is denying him burial the only way to decisively condemn him and his acts? Is his presence too close to those who have been wounded so deeply?

For it’s part, Cambridge would not allow Tsarnaev to be buried within city limits. His body lay in a North-Attleborough funeral home until it came to Worcester. Thus far, no cemetery is willing to take him.

“We are burying a dead body. That’s what we do.”

So said Worcester funeral director Peter Stefan. Society entrusts some people with the tasks the rest of us don’t want to do. One of those is burying the dead and someone has to do it. One can interpret this as a simple bureaucratic fact, but it attests to something deeper. “I cannot separate the sin from the sinner,” Stefan explained. And he’s right — none of us can. I doubt if we’ll ever fully know how to place Tamerlan Tsarnaev and understand the connections between his actions and his person. And putting him in the ground is not going to bring closure to his many victims. But we all do return to the ground inevitably. Burying Tamerlan Tsarnaev is paradoxically an act of faith and hope, affirming that a connection exists between us all, even though that connection may itself be buried and hidden from our sight.

Schmalz writes and teaches in the fields of Comparative Religions and South Asian Studies at the College of the Holy Cross. He also writes on Catholic spirituality.

Image via Ted Eytan.

Mathew N. Schmalz
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    Cremate him, then mix the ashes with cement and cast it into a cinderblock, then tie it to his brother’s legs and drop him into the Charles.

  • Bill Ferguson

    Fish food it was good enough for Bin Laden

  • jade_alpha

    I remember a story I read once where the kingdom had a tomb of the betrayers for the worst traitors and the like so their remains wouldn’t be desecrated (and turned into zombies though that doesn’t seem like a concern here). Perhaps the government should do the same thing for people like this.

  • George Bruce

    I say bury him at sea with his other brother!

  • dapandssp

    Send his body to his “home”….the place he thought was so much more important than the Country that gave him everything….all that well fare to raise his kid, feed his wife and family, educate himself…I am so glad to see SOCIETY judging him by rejecting him – instead of our government having to regulate him into oblivian. Send him back to his family that was so freaking proud! And that being done, hopefully Obama won’t send them the funds from the US treasuray to pay for the funeral.

  • dapandssp

    oh, sorry. Back to the topic at hand – where do we put “Tamerlan Tsarnaev” – in HELL.

  • rockyboy1

    Kudos to Peter Stefan and Ruslan Tsarni, who have comported themselves with good character, grace and compassion in this matter. Everyone can take a lesson from them in how to conduct oneself under pressure.

    We are bigger as a nation and a community than ignorant ranting demonstrations of rejection at a funeral home. And the local, state and federal officials can be bigger than bowing to the political heat of the moment in deciding a proper course. That’s the test of leadership. As Mr. Stefan aptly puts it, “Everyone deserves to be buried.”

    Imo, Tamerlan Tsarnaev should be buried in an unmarked grave in Massachusetts in a wee-hours stealth operation conducted by/assisted by the law enforcement community. That would be an appropriate form of closure for this part of the tragedy.

  • dapandssp

    Why do you think for a even a moment that our government has any obligation to bury him? If you do, perhaps you’d cough up your check book and pay for it!

  • dapandssp

    Do you think for one second that you would have anyone paying for your burial costs if you didn’t have it? Sorry – but unless you were some minority, or your family had the money – or they created some car was to collect funds – your family would be faced with trying to pay for your funeral if they could. And if they couldn’t – you’d be buried just as you suggest he should. Ship him home to that family that’s so proud fo them and let them deal with it. And I say ship – at their expense. And if they can’t afford it – then let him rot! Give him the same respect he gave everyone he killed. NONE.

  • CharlesWade

    Shouldn’t his body be shipped to his home town or birth town? By rights his wife should take responsibility for the remains. It is a shabby affair all around and a shame on many people.

  • viewpnt3

    Yes, bury his body with dignity and pray for the victims and their families and for all tempted by the lure of fame or violence. Bury him at sea if this grave site is a problem for local authorities. But bury him and fast as this matter is an indictment and offends our profession of liberty and justice and certainly of our religious traditions.

  • Senjata

    Put him in a prison cemetery. Duh.

    Whatever we do, the last thing we should do is provide him with a proper Islamic burial. From a psychological warfare point-of-view, we should do everything we can to diminish his Muslim credentials, not burnish them.

  • larryclyons

    why stoop to their level. We’re better than that.

  • Tyche15

    I really don’t understand this perspective. It’s certainly not Christian or Christ-like. Maybe you’re not a Christian though.

  • Senjata

    A prison cemetery is not good enough for him? Really? What do you suggest? Arlington?

  • W. Brown

    He apparently sought martyrdom. A martyr, and his thoughts, lives on if there is a grave for his followers to visit. That is why the profoundly evil, such as Hitler and Bin Laden, are graveless. If Hitler had a grave, no doubt the neo-nazis would use it to strenghthen their movement.

    My suggestion is cremation and dispersal of the ashes in a very large body of water.

  • PoliticoMom

    Send his remains to Gitmo on the next cargo flight. The military has flighs to Guantanamo all the time. There is a proper Islamc cemetary. Bury him there where the military bend over backwards to preserve the rights and dignity of its prisoners (ask any soldier stationed there and they will confirm). That is the best solution for all.

    The Tsarnaev brothers became a government problem when the intelligence provided by Russia and Saudi Arabia failed to result in ongoing monitoring. The FBI and CIA are active in the investigation. So I disagree with Governor Patrick on this not being a federal or state matter. This certainly is. The state and federal government should be working together to properly inter this body. Whatever is decided, if the younger brother is tried, convicted and sentenced to death (not that I’m calling him guilty), but if that were to come to pass then we’re going to have this same debate. Choose well is all I’m saying.

  • Abey

    Why not cremate him and ship his ashes to his native Chechnya?

  • gladerunner

    “If we put Tsarnaev in the ground, are we allowing him a permanent presence in our midst?”
    Uh, he’s dead. The only permanent thing about his presence is where the decaying corpse further reduces itself to dust. He can do no more harm regardless of where/how his remains are handled.
    It is ridiculously archaic and irrational to believe that we can deliver unto him some mighty righteous vengeance by mutilating, humiliating or defacing his corpse. He’s dead.
    I can understand certain cemeteries not wanting his remains. Wherever celebrities are buried, notorious or lauded, famous or infamous, there is a high chance of grave vandalism. Who’d invite that?
    His remains have been released to a family member’s discretion. If the family member wants to bury him, the onus is upon that family member to make the arrangements. Burial, cremation, burial at sea, whatever, that’s the way it works here.
    Cemeteries are where we bury ‘remains’ the meat left over after the life force, soul, sentience, animation ceases.
    We are not burying the evil, the crime, the inhumanity, or the person. We are merely disposing of what is left after all that is no longer alive in that corpse.
    Everything else is about tradition and custom, not actual cause and effect. The ceremonies, the flowers, the pinwheels, the trinkets we throw into and on the burial site as well as the suit and tie inside the coffin and the monument or marker above the grave, are there for the benefit of those still alive, those with an inability to grasp or cope with the full scope of the absolute finality of human death.
    So why does it matter what is done with those remains?

  • Senjata

    W. Brown,

    I don’t have a problem with your solution. However, the problem seems to be finding a cemetery. That can be fixed by offering up a state penitentiary’s cemetery. Seems perfect to me, if it has to be a cemetery.

    I can’t fathom why people like Tyche and larry have issues with a state penitentiary’s cemetery. That’s just … bizarre. Providing him a plot is stooping to “their level”? What does that even mean?

  • Itzajob

    Under Massachusetts law, the City of Cambridge is required to provide a burial plot. Presumably, that’s why it’s “requesting” the family not to “request” burial there. And presumably, unless some better offer comes unexpectedly along, this is what will happen once things calm down.

    As reported by the AP:

    If Russia refuses to accept the body, Cambridge may be forced to take it, said Wake Forest University professor Tanya Marsh, an expert in U.S. law on the disposal of human remains.

    Massachusetts law requires every community to provide a suitable place to bury its residents, she said. Cambridge’s appeal to the family not to ask it to bury the body is likely a way to set up its defense if the family goes to court to try to force the burial, Marsh said.

    Such a case would be unprecedented in Massachusetts, she said. She added that even in a country that’s had its share of notorious accused killers, this kind of opposition to a burial is unheard of and is exposing holes in the law, Marsh said.

    “It’s a mess,” she said. “We’re really sort of in uncharted territory.”

  • PoliticoMom

    There is a burial ground that has been blessed and approved for burials on GITMO. Ship the older Tsarnaev there for burial. If the younger Tsarnaev is found guilty and committed to the death penalty, they can bury him by his brother. This is not difficult, folks. GITMO is where these two “losers” belong….dead or alive.

  • PoliticoMom

    Well if Cambridge is forced to take the body you can bet there will be a large contingent of people who will visit his grave and do all sorts of nasty things. The family of this man (and his brother) should give some thought to that before making
    conditions about where he is buried.

  • Itzajob

    It would be unmarked, PoliticoMom. Nobody wants there to be a scene. That’s just the excuse being trotted out by people who want the body to be denied a decent burial.

    And as for Ruslan Tsarni, what “conditions” has he demanded? All he’s trying to do is get a body buried. It’s the people trying to prevent that who ought to give it some thought.

  • Itzajob

    Nobody’s offered that, PoliticoMom. If you have contacts at Gitmo who can make this happen, you should forward them to Mr. Stefan at the funeral home.