Jewish Journal

Burying Tamerlan Tsarnaev

by Susan Esther Barnes

May 6, 2013 | 11:01 am

CNN and other media outlets have been reporting the difficulty Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s family is having as they try to find a place to bury his body.  Tsarnaev, of course, is the Boston Marathon bombing suspect who died after a firefight with law enforcement officers.

Not only are cemeteries refusing the body, but there are reports that a funeral home that handled the body briefly is receiving threats of boycotts.

Tsarnaev was a Muslim, and Muslim burial practices are very similar to traditional Jewish burial practices. The body is ritually washed, then dressed in shrouds. Prayers are said. Afterward, the body is buried, not cremated. The preference is to bury the body as soon after death as is reasonably possible. Throughout, the focus is on paying respect to the dead.

I can understand that survivors of the bombing, as well as friends and families of the survivors and those who died are angry. Many other people are angry. The bombing was a terrible act. And although nobody has yet been convicted of this act of terrorism, the surviving Tsarnaev brother has apparently confirmed that he and his brother were the perpetrators. There is little to no doubt that Tamerlan Tsarnaev is guilty.

There is also no doubt that Tamerlan Tsarnaev is now dead. His body must be disposed of in some manner. It must be handled by at least one funeral home, and it must be buried somewhere.

I understand some cemeteries don’t want the publicity associated with burying him. If they do so, they are likely to be subject to threats of boycotts, picketing, and even violence. The grave may be vandalized. Crowds might appear around the time of the burial, on the anniversary of the bombing, and at other times. It would be a big inconvenience, and may result in a loss of business.

However, Tamerlan Tsarnaev is survived by family members who are completely innocent. They had nothing to do with the bombing. But they have a dead family member they need to bury. They have a grieving process that cannot properly begin until that body is safely in the ground. Every cemetery that refuses the body, and every person who, in any way, thwarts the burial process, is adding to the pain of innocents. That is not okay.

Perhaps the best solution is to try to find a cemetery that will bury the body in an undisclosed, unmarked grave, at least for the time being. Perhaps a year from now, or in five years, a marker can be added to the grave. I know there are people in the media who will try to track down the location of the grave. Most likely, they will be successful in doing so, and say it’s because the public has a “right to know.”

But right now, innocent people have the right and the need to dispose of the remains of their family member. Whether or not you believe the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev deserves respect and rest, his family members deserve the ability to lay him to rest, and to get on with their grief.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a Muslim. There must be some Muslim cemetery, somewhere in Massachusetts or the surrounding states, which is willing to step up and do the right thing.

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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