(Note to readers: The Associated Press is reporting this morning that Tamerlan Tsarnaev has been buried at an undisclosed location near Worcester, Mass.)
Tamerlan Tsarnaev is dead and not gone. Twenty days after the Chechen native was killed in the manhunt that followed the Boston Marathon bombings, his corpse remains in a Massachusetts funeral home, uninterred and unwanted.
It cannot be cremated, as the bodies of people of notoriety often are, if the tenets of Tsarnaev’s Islamic faith are to be honored. It evidently cannot be buried in Massachusetts soil, given that several cemeteries have preemptively declined — in the face of preemptive public protests and even threats — to accept the taint of a jihadist bomber responsible for the deaths of three and the maiming of hundreds.
It conceivably could be buried at sea, or in Russia, or at one of the many plots across the continent that have been offered up as if part of a lottery, but these options either are not feasible or are undesirable to the uncle who, while expressing no sympathy for Tsarnaev’s alleged actions, believes a proper burial is in order and should take place where his nephew lived.
It should be noted that the body of Osama bin Laden received more careful handling than this. After Bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces in Pakistan in 2011, American officials took pains to detail the ways his burial in the North Arabian Sea honored Islamic customs (while making public access to the site impossible).
Why is Tsarnaev’s body — or that of any killer’s — worthy of dignified treatment? Because we are a better people when we rise above our transgressors. This isn’t an alien standard of behavior. It’s a religious doctrine and a human quality.
If that somehow is insufficient, there’s the practical matter of how actions beget reactions. Although radicals may not be inclined to give America the benefit of the doubt in any situation, the yet-to-be-radicalized may be, so it’s in our interest to present our best possible image to the world when we can.
In Tsarnaev’s case, the issue is complicated by the fact that his final disposal is not explicitly a public responsibility. Nonetheless, it’s the collective force of public sentiment that stands in the way of a resolution.
Someone with the power to act ought to turn the other cheek and arrange for a quiet burial, after which the rest of us should turn our attention elsewhere and let this killer — though not the memory of his crimes — dissolve into history.