Battling Over Burials

Yvonne Abraham is “sickened” by Cambridge’s refusal to allow Tamerlan Tsarnaev to be interred in the city:

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?

Me too. In fact, as a Catholic, I find it disgusting. Even mass murdering Jihadists are human beings. When dead, judgment is between them and their God. It is a core aspect of a humane society to respect the humanity even of the most evil and reprehensible. And this bizarre aversion to burying Tsarnaev in Massachusetts also places the terrorist in a special category of dehumanization. We must resist this if we are to remain a civilized country.We can fight an enemy without dehumanizing them. As soon as you do that, you end up in Donald Rumsfeld’s Abu Ghraib.

Tim Murphy, noting that Tsarnaev’s case is “complicated by the fact that the remains of a Muslim cannot be cremated,” finds other examples of bodies that were kept from burial:

One of the most high-profile cases of domestic terrorism prompted an anti-burial backlash.

After Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death in 1997, Congress moved quickly to pass legislation preventing anyone who had been convicted of a federal capital crime from being interred in a veterans’ cemetery. McVeigh’s ashes were scattered.

No cemetery in the city of Chicago would allow the four men hanged for their role in the 1886 Haymarket Riot, in which seven police officers and four civilians were killed in a bombing, to be buried within the city limits. Instead, they were relegated to a plot in the suburb of Forest Park. Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist who assassinated President William McKinley, was dissolved in sulfuric acidBreaking Bad-style, to prevent admirers from visiting his grave. Lee Harvey Oswald’s corpse was flipped from Dallas cemeteries like a hot potato before finally finding a resting place in Fort Worth.

Perhaps the most heated and prolonged burial battle involved the bodies of American cult members who died at Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978. As historian David Chidester explained in Salvation and Suicide, “Public officials had vehemently resisted any mass burial of the Jonestown dead for fear that such a burial site would become a cultic shrine.” Instead, the bodies languished at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware before arrangements were finally made for a group burial in Oakland, California.

Officials have since announced they have found an undisclosed burial place for Tsarnaev.