THE UPROAR against permitting the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev to be buried in Cambridge is as understandable as it is ignoble.
More than two weeks after the accused Boston Marathon bomber was killed during a shootout with police in Watertown, no cemetery has agreed to inter his remains. Since Friday, Tsarnaev’s body has been at a funeral parlor in Worcester, where family members washed and shrouded the body in preparation for burial. But funeral director Peter Stefan’s efforts to find a burial plot for Tsarnaev have been fruitless. After being turned down by several private cemeteries, he intends to approach the municipal cemetery in Cambridge, Tsarnaev’s residence for most of the last 11 years. But City Manager Robert Healy says Cambridge doesn’t want him either. The “turmoil, protests, and widespread media presence” would disturb the peace, Healy announced on Sunday, and called on “appropriate federal agencies” to deal with Tsarnaev’s remains.
The urge to deny a hated enemy the dignity of burial is nothing new. In The Iliad, Homer describes the killing of Hector by the Greek champion Achilles, who then drags the body for days from the back of his chariot, refusing every request to let his Trojan foe be returned for burial. Closer to home is the treatment meted out to Metacomet, the Wampanoag chief whose death in 1676 ended King Philip’s War. Metacomet’s body was cut into pieces, and his head was mounted on a pike in Plymouth, where it remained for the next 20 years.
Today we regard such behavior as grotesque, an affront to human dignity. The crimes Tsarnaev is believed to have committed were monstrous, but we don’t take revenge against lifeless bodies. Executed criminals still receive burials. Tsarnaev shouldn’t be buried in a way that attracts either vandals or admirers, which would be more likely should his body be returned to his relatives in Russia, as his mother has suggested. Better to let the accused terrorist be buried in an unmarked grave, either in Cambridge municipal cemetery or a private plot.