The body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev deserves a burial. The corpse of the Boston Marathon bomber has been under refrigeration since Friday at a funeral home in Worcester on south Main Street, with protesters gathered outside and no local cemetery willing to accept the remains. This situation is indefensible.
Since ancient times, proper interment of the deceased has been the mark of a civilized society and a universally recognized moral injunction.
In Sophocle’s play Antigone, the king of Thebes, Creon, brings down the wrath of the gods upon his own family when he refuses to allow the heroine for whom the drama is named to bury her brother Polynices, who had rebelled against the state, ruling the body must be left to rot on the plain. Transgressing the king’s decree, heaping earth upon her slain sibling, Antigone proclaims to Creon that no “mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven.”
In Christian tradition, the same rule applies. The Romans, known for the cruelty of their punishments, returned the crucified body of Jesus back to his disciples and family members to be put to rest according to Jewish custom. Ascertaining that Christ had indeed succumbed, the Gospel of Mark tells us that Pontius Pilate allowed the corpse to be claimed by Joseph of Arimithea, who “bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock.”
Even in wartime, an interval when the laws of humanity and common decency are otherwise suspended, fighting armies will momentarily suspend combat so that each side may retrieve and bury their casualties under a flag of truce. The Geneva Conventions, based on centuries of internationally accepted law, stipulate that “the dead must be disposed of in a respectful manner and their graves respected and properly maintained.”
Given such precedent, is it too much to ask a cemetery in Worcester to accept the remains of Tamerlan Tsarnaev?
Whether you consider him a heinous murderer, a misguided soul, a terrorist, or all of the above, he was also a human being: not an animal, an object or a piece of refuse. I have zero tolerance for his cause and condemn his actions, even as I grieve his victims and sympathize with the families of those who were killed or injured by his crimes.
But this is one of those decision points that reveals our own character as a people. Are we brutes, or are we members of a civilized nation?
Only the residents of Worcester can decide.
(Rev. Kowalski is currently serving as interim minister of the First Unitarian Church of Worcester, Massachusetts)