The mystery surrounding the burial of the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev has come to an end. The Boston Marathon bombing suspect was buried this week at a small Muslim cemetery in Doswell, Va.
According to his completed death certificate, which was released on Friday, Mr. Tsarnaev was buried on Thursday at Al-Barzakh Cemetery, about half an hour north of Richmond.
His body was claimed by an uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, about two weeks later, but it remained at a funeral home in Worcester, Mass., for six days, because no cemetery or host community could be found that would accept it.
Martha Mullen followed the story from her home in Richmond, Va., and asked local religious leaders if they could think of anywhere Mr. Tsarnaev could be laid to rest.
“Jesus tells us, ‘Love your enemies,’ not to hate them after they’re dead,” said Ms. Mullen, according to a statement provided by the Islamic Society of Greater Richmond.
She received an offer from the Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia, a small organization that runs a cemetery with several dozen plots in Doswell, an unincorporated village with less than 2,000 people.
“We strongly disagree with his violent actions, but that does not release us from our obligation to return his body to the earth,” said an unnamed official with the group who was quoted in the statement. »»» Tamerlan Tsarnaev Buried in Virginia Cemetery – NYTimes.com
The burial of Tamerlan Tsarnaev was not only carried out in a legal way but was also the right thing to do. His burial was legal, in compliance with more than 2,000 years of precedent and required by Christian doctrine.
It is a sad commentary on the meanness of thousands who have said some very nasty and vulgar things about the burial of Tamerlan Tsarnaev in U.S. soil.
Since many people accept the idea that there is an actual “war on terror” and that Tamerlan was a enemy combatant in that war, let us look at the principles and ethics that apply when an enemy combatant is killed in battle. There are three ways to examine the question: (1) from the strictly legal standpoint, (2) the historical perspective and for most Americans (3) the Christian perspective.
1. From a strictly legal standpoint
Since Tamerlan was in the U.S. as a legal alien when he died, he can be buried anywhere in the country so long as local laws regulating the burial of human remains are respected. In this case, it appears that a such formalities were followed. Furthermore, in times of battle, it is common for fallen enemies to be buried in the place where they fell. In fact, until recent times, repatriation of the dead was unusual.
2. From a historical perspective
Since before the time of Aristotle (d. 322 B.C.), Western civilization has required that the remains of fallen enemies be treated with respect and accorded a decent burial. Aristotle’s philosophical writings on ethics and and what it means to be a “virtuous human” are still read today with great respect.
How the bodies of fallen enemies are to be treated is discussed at length in the foundational work on international law De Jure Belli ac Pacis (On the Law of War and Peace), published by Hugo Grotius in 1625. The principles that he described are still in effect today.
“…the rights of burial, the discharge of which forms one of the offices of humanity, cannot be denied even to enemies, whom a state of warfare has not deprived of the rights and nature of men. For, as Virgil observes, all animosity against the vanquished and the dead must cease, because they have suffered the last of evils that can be inflicted. Optatus Milevitanus [says] ‘If there have been struggles among the living, your hatred surely must be satisfied with the death of an adversary. For the tongue of strife is now silenced.’
” …it is agreed by all that public enemies are entitled to burial. Appian calls it the common right of war, with which, Tacitus says, no enemy will refuse to comply.
“For the hand of death (…) has destroyed all enmity towards the fallen, and protected their bodies from all insult.”
The Jewish Biblical scholar and philosopher Philo and the Jewish historian Josephus both argued that even an enemy killed in warfare is marked with the common seal of human nature, and must be accorded all the customs that are common to all mankind.
Since the eve of Western civilization, respect for the dead and their right to a decent burial of their bodies has been a continuous principal of the law of war.
If the deceased is considered to be an enemy fallen in war, refusing him a proper burial would have been a violation of the First Geneva Convention, to which the U.S. is a signatory.
“Parties to the conflict shall ensure that the dead are honorably interred, if possible according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged.” Geneva I, 1949, Art. 17.
3. From the Christian perspective
In addition to the Ten Commandments, the Jews in the time of Jesus observed over 600 other religious laws. One day, a man asked Jesus which was the greatest law. Jesus said:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40, KJV)
In other words, we should do for our neighbor any good thing that we would desire for ourselves. For Jesus, “neighbour” means any person with whom we come into contact, that is, any person who is nigh unto us. With to respect enemies, Jesus’ teaching is very clear:
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44, KJV)
We are told to be better than our enemies–to the point of treating them with Christian love.
As the ancients pointed out, once an enemy combattant is dead, there is no longer any reason to act with animosity since death should destroy all our enmity toward him. The human remains of Tamerlan are an empty shell. The soul, consciousness, mind and breath of life are all gone. What remains will now decompose in the ground and return to dust. By God’s will, he once received the breath of life and was molded from the dust of the earth to be a human being, just like our father Adam. That breath of life has departed, and we must allow what remains to return to its primordial form for it is God’s own command that we, being made from dust, must, after death, return to dust.
The people who organized the transfer of Tamerlan’s body to your city and who gave him a proper burial have done a good work, an act of mercy. That act of mercy must be shown to all the dead bodies–the good, the evil, the saints, the monsters and even you and I–who deserve to be treated with respect and returned to the earth.
Furthermore, when we say that someone like Tamerlan is not like us, we deceive ourselves. He is a warning to us that there is in everyone of us a spark of evil that can be fired up and do great harm. The Bible tells us that Moses, in a fit of rage, killed an Egyptian soldier and tried to hide his body. The Apostle Peter drew a knife in the Garden of Gethsemane and cut off the ear of a servant of the High Priest who had come to arrest Jesus. Before his conversion, the Apostle Paul helped persecute Christians. He stood by in silence and watched Saint Stephen being stoned to death.
We are reminded of the bond that unites all of us, good or evil, by the Rev. John Donne, the great English writer and Anglican priest, who, upon hearing the bell that tolled for a funeral wrote these words:
“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.
“…this bell calls us all; …Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” (Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, no. 17)
When the essence of our being has departed our mortal bodies, the flesh and bones that remain deserve a decent burial. Tamerlan’s evil was not in his body parts; it was in his soul, his mind, his consciousness, and they all left his body when he died. His mortal remains are no better and no worse than our own will be when we leave this world; they deserved and received a decent burial–the universal right of all mankind.