Burying those whom society despises

[UPDATE on May 9, 2013: He has finally been buried in an undisclosed location, bringing this shameful chapter to a close.]

In an odd sequel to the Boston bombing, the family of Tamerlan Tsarnaev wants him to be buried according to Muslim custom but it turns out that cemeteries are refusing to allow the body to be buried in their plots. The funeral director Peter Stefan has tried four cemeteries in three different states and has been rejected by all of them. His family wants him to be buried in Massachusetts, where he lived the last decade.

Criminals, even famous ones like Lee Harvey Oswald, are buried all the time with little fanfare so it is not clear why this particular case is arousing such opposition. If nobody claims the body, as was the case with Ted Bundy and Timothy McVeigh, they are cremated and their remains scattered. But that option is not available here since apparently Islam forbids cremation. Stefan takes the view that a body is a body and that he has his duty to bury the dead the same way that it is a doctor’s duty to treat the sick and the injured. He says that he might have to go to the federal authorities for help in finding a burial plot.

This denial of burial is carrying symbolic vindictiveness to an absurd level. Dead bodies have to be disposed of somehow. We would be appalled (I hope) if a doctor refused to treat the injured Dzhorkar Tsarnaev in hospital so why is it so hard to accept that his brother’s body needs to be buried somewhere?


  1. sqlrob says

    There is a pragmatic reason for refusal, although I don’t know how much that reason is actually being considered by the places refusing – how much are the graves / cemeteries going to be a target for vandalism?

  2. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Vandalism would be a serious issue if the location of the grave were known.

  3. slc1 says

    I can’t find a citation but I recall reading somewhere this morning that his mother want’s him to be buried in Russia.

  4. jamessweet says

    We would be appalled (I hope) if a doctor refused to treat the injured Dzhorkar Tsarnaev in hospital so why is it so hard to accept that his brother’s body needs to be buried somewhere?

    Yeeeeeaaahhhh, a lot of people were suggesting exactly that. Don’t underestimate how vindictive and bloodthirsty H. sapiens can be.

  5. Corvus illustris says

    The Funeral Consumers’ Alliance of Eastern Massachusetts website states that burial on private land is permitted in MA if the local health department approves. Something like that may finally solve the surviving Tsarnaevs’ problem, particularly since (IIRC) Muslim practice is to avoid conspicuous grave markers.

  6. invivoMark says

    “But [the option of cremation] is not available here since apparently Islam forbids cremation.”

    I don’t see how this is relevant. Tamarlan Tsarnaev is not a Muslim. He’s dead.

  7. Doug Little says

    So the family needs to suffer more than they already have through no fault of their own.

  8. baal says

    I haven’t seen a lot (any) of grave desecration stories so I’m not inclined to think that’s a real problem. I otherwise feel that remains should be treated with equal dignity regardless of who the person was when alive. In this case, that means the family has a civil right to a burial in State like anyone else would have. Do we have whites only cemeteries and would we support them if we do?

  9. Nathan & the Cynic says

    It’s a body. As long as it’s disposed of in a way that isn’t a health risk, who cares?

    Or donate it to science or a med school or something. One small repayment for a lot of chaos.

  10. dobbshead says

    This is stupid and irrelevant. We don’t bury the dead for the sake of the dead, we bury the dead for the sake of the living. We live in a pluralistic society, so how we handle our dead and the dead from other cultures has real world political ramifications.

    Think of the care and respect you would show to the possessions of a dead friend or relative, how much more respect should be shown a body? That kind of respect is an important part of human social interaction and a general aspect of every human society. Preening about how a body is just a body doesn’t make you rational, it makes you foolish.

  11. Doug Little says

    Yes the person in question is dead but the family members are still alive and obviously care about their dead family member.

  12. invivoMark says

    But a body IS just a body. And as a civilization, we’d find much improvement if we could bring ourselves to accept that. As it is, our fretting and worrying over the bodies of the deceased is actually taking a not insubstantial toll – extravagant burials place undue financial burden on the bereaved, and ever increasing land use by graveyards is exacerbating overcrowding in urban areas (just ask the Japanese!).

    Moreover, I think our psychological well-being would be generally increased if we became less detached from death (for lack of a better word). The way we deal with death as a culture is complex, and perhaps it should be. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.

    You are correct that we bury the dead for the sake of the living. I would never dispute that. But as one of the living, I think we ought to change our views on how we treat the dead.

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