Yvonne Abraham

To bury, not to praise

He came to bury his nephew, not to praise him. But some of us won’t allow it.

Ruslan Tsarni abhors what his nephews are accused of, killing three people and injuring 264 in the attack at the ­Boston Marathon. In a press conference after the bombings, Tsarni called the Tsarnaev brothers “losers” who had “put a shame on our entire family.”

Unlike the bombers’ parents — absent at best, unhinged at worst — Tsarni was a picture of dignity. He was blameless, but said he would kneel before the victims’ families, seeking forgiveness.

“I love this country,” Tsarni said. “This country, which gives a chance to everybody . . . to be treated as a human being.”


His patriotic certainty must be shakier today. Over the last week, too many in the country ­Tsarni loves have made it clear they believe not everybody should be treated as a human being. The manager of a city famous for its tolerance said it could not tolerate the reviled Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s body being interred in Cambridge because his grave would bring ugly protests.

The protesters outside the Worcester funeral home where Tsarni washed and shrouded his nephew’s body have wrapped themselves in American flags, as if they speak for a nation. They would defile Tsarnaev’s corpse. “I don’t want to even live in this state if he is buried here,” one said. “He needs to be fed to the sharks,” said another. Grieving families at the immensely compassionate Peter Stefan’s funeral home have endured expletives and calls of “Go back to Russia!” even though they are unconnected to Tsarnaev.

It’s sickening, because every day we spend talking about Tsarnaev’s body is another we take from talking about the victims. It’s another day distracting us from getting to the bottom of how two pathetic creatures such as the brothers ­Tsarnaev managed to upend our lives.


It’s sickening, too, because of what it says about us. And we do need to talk about that. If we begin to judge who is worthy of burial, and who is not – which, make no mistake, is the precedent being set here – where does it end?

Plenty of others have been controlled by irrational thoughts the way the Tsarnaevs were. Many are broken, as Adam Lanza and Seung-Hui Cho demonstrate all too well. As much as we’d like to fully dissociate ourselves from that evil, we can’t. They’re human, like us.

We have buried men like this. We have also buried Mafia bosses, some of them mass murderers, sometimes with grand funerals. Do their bodies better deserve to be treated as human, their relatives’ wishes better deserve honoring, because they were motivated by greed and sadism, rather than a twisted, hateful sense of injustice?

Will the aged Whitey Bulger – accused of murdering 19 people, for profit, pride, and pleasure – be left lying in a funeral home when his time comes because people are outraged at the evil of his alleged acts?

No. So far, we appear to have decided we should withhold burial from only one kind of ­irrational killer: the one who is not American, the one who kills in the name of Islam. And in so doing, we play right into the hands of others like him. By treating even the most despicable person as less than human, we become less human ourselves. And then who are we to judge?


This should not be about Tsarnaev, who died for his heinous acts. It should be about his uncle Ruslan, an American who stood up against his own blood, then put that anger aside to tend to his nephew’s flesh, to bury that empty vessel, in accordance with his beliefs.

And it should be about us. We said this attack wouldn’t change us, but it has. Or perhaps, more depressing, we were like this all along.

“We are not barbarians,” Worcester Police Chief Gary Gemme said. “We bury the dead.”

Right now that is more wish than fact.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com