Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, has now been dead for nearly three weeks. His body has not been buried, though. Peter Stefan, the funeral director, has been desperately trying to find some cemetery, any cemetery, willing to bury Tsarnaev. He hasn't had any luck. Part of this is due to a justifiable hesitance from private cemeteries to potentially expose themselves to protests and vandalism. But that does not explain the public protests that have actually been staged over this. USA Today described the scene at one such protest outside the Worcester funeral home:
One sign read: "Do not bury him on U.S. soil." Several people drove by the funeral home Sunday and yelled, including one man who shouted, "Throw him off a boat like Osama bin Laden!"This is a perfect storm for some of our most base instincts to reveal themselves: jingoism, superstition, paranoia, tribalism, bigotry. I understand the business concerns of private cemeteries. They are not to blame here. Over 100 out-of-state cemeteries actually have offered to bury the body. But it has not happened because "when he [Stefan] calls officials of the cities or towns involved, nobody wants the body." Cemeteries would have no doubt quietly accepted and buried the body if this were a mature and civilized society and they wouldn't have to fear some hysterical backlash. Stefan has personally received calls from people smearing him as "un-American" for having the nerve to carry out his job as funeral director even when the departed was a Terrorist.
So, forget the cemeteries. The story here is the sheer irrationality of the protesters and the cowardice of officials in Massachusetts and elsewhere. Even Ed Markey has lent credibility to this stupidity ("I think that the people of Massachusetts have a right to say that they do not want that terrorist to be buried on the soil of Massachusetts."). Cameron Smock, president of a Seattle funeral home, has been in the profession for 28 years and cannot recall anything like this ever happening. Wake Forest University professor Tanya Marsh, an expert in U.S. law on the disposal of human remains, called it "unchartered territory."
This is an embarrassment. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a permanent resident of the United States who spent the last decade of his life here. Burying the dead is "just what a civilized society does," as one Massachusetts funeral director put it (apparently finding it necessary to add that Tsarnaev "can't hurt anybody anymore"). It would be a sad indictment of our society if reason does not soon prevail here.