Burying the dead

Tamerlan Tsarnaev hijacked a car and kidnapped the owner but did not kill him.  He died in a shootout with police – maybe from gunshots, maybe from his younger brother running over him.  These are facts.  It is likely he set off at least two explosive devices near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  Either he or his brother shot a MIT police officer in cold blood.  Does this mean he does not deserve to be buried in his adopted hometown of Cambridge?  Or barring that, somewhere in the Boston area.

We have a long history of abusing the bodies of our enemies.  Antigone wants to bury of the body of her brother, Polyneices.  At the beginning of the play named for her, she tells her sister

…they say he [Creon] has proclaimed to the whole town

that none may bury him and none bewail,

but leave him unwept, untombed, a rich sweet sight

for the hungry birds’ beholding.

Antigone is trying to persuade her sister they should commit what we would call civil disobedience and bury Polyneices anyway.

Achilles dragged the body of Hector behind his chariot for days after the Trojan had killed his best friend, Patroclus.  Achilles finally relents to Hector’s father.  We are told that the gods had kept the body from showing signs of abuse.

Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, and Albert DeSalvo perhaps the Boston Strangler, were both buried in private cemeteries.  So was Lee Harvey Oswald.

Massachusetts law gives a cemetery the right to refuse burial, but I haven’t seen any stories that discuss how often this right is invoked.  A number of funeral home directors have spoken out saying that the protests outside the funeral home are not right.  The most interesting comment came from a North Carolina Republican who sponsored legislation to limit protests by groups like Westboro Church.

“The family can have peace and say goodbye to their loved ones without hearing screaming and noise,” says North Carolina Republican state Rep. John Szoka, who sponsored a bill this year to strengthen that state’s ban.

Most Americans find the Westboro protests outrageous because they believe deeply in the right of a family to bury their dead and not be challenged about it, Sloane [David C. Sloane, author of The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History] says.

That’s what makes the protests in Worcester unusual. Tradition dictates that bodies of even the most heinous criminals be given over to the families to deal with in their private grief.

Regardless of his actions, though, a funeral home is not the appropriate place for such public expression of anger, says Szoka, the North Carolina legislator.

“I’m not really in favor of protesting outside funeral homes, no matter how disgusting the individual or whatever he did,” Szoka says. “There are other venues for that.”

Cemeteries in Massachusetts may have the legal right to refuse, but they should think more about why they exist and what their mission is.  The problem they are thinking of is future vandalism.  Another act that most of those protesting would normally find outrageous.

Protesters outside the funeral home.

Protesters outside the funeral home.

As I understand it, Muslim dead, like Jewish dead need to be buried as soon as possible.  They cannot be cremated.  Quite honestly, I think the statements of all the Massachusetts politicians who have spoken including Representative and Senate candidate Ed Markey, Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez, Mayor Thomas Menino and Governor Deval Patrick have been less than worthy of them.  They are behaving like so many Creons.  The Worcester funeral home director, Peter A. Stefan and the Worcester Police Chief Gary Gemme seem to be the only ones actively and constuctively working toward a solution.

Whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s body is buried in another state or sent back to Russia, what is going on is not worthy of Massachusetts.  It is not worthy of “OneBoston.”  We are better than this.

Photograph:  AP

Translation of Antigone: Richmond Lattimore

One year in Boston

OK.  So maybe we are a little self-absorbed right now what with congratulating each other on how well we survived and how much money we have raised for the victims.  The police are at all the events (Sox, Bruins, etc.) being honored.  And maybe everyone is laughing at us for letting the entire City be locked down for an entire day, but it worked for us.  I can’t imagine it happening in New York or LA or Philly.  Maybe San Francisco.  But Boston is pretty connected and compact and if you shut down the public transit, it gets difficult for many people to move around.  I’m sure someone will do a study on why Bostonians pretty universally listened to Governor Deval Patrick.  I wasn’t even in town and I got an alert voice mail.  Maybe it went on too long, but that’s a judgement call and after the fact.  I have read that the “shelter in place” order was lifted on suggestion from President Obama – which might be true, but I’m not sure at this point.  There are still a lot of rumors flying around and as with Newtown, Sandy, and all the other horrific events, we will know the real story months and even years from now.

I was happy to see Brian McFadden’s take on the situation.

12 Months of Boston

12 Months of Boston

Yes, we are getting back to normal and there will be another Boston Marathon in 2014.  And we will learn the truth about what went on that horrible week.  But for now, the Sox are on a roll, the Bruins are in the playoffs and the Celtics stayed alive for another game.

Local Terrorism: the third wave

It is early days yet for both the investigation and the legal process but we are beginning to know bits and pieces about two brothers, graduates of Cambridge Rindge and Latin, the same school that produced Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who decided to bomb the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  Farah Stockman had a very thoughtful column in the Boston Globe this morning.  She begins with a book written in 2008 by Mark Sageman, a former CIA psychiatrist, who predicted “The threat is no longer ‘foreign fanatics,’ but people who grew up in the West.”   His book is “Leaderless Jihad”  Stockman continues

We still don’t know how much support the Boston Marathon bombers had from overseas. Chechnya’s main militant group, Caucasus Emirate, denies any link to the brothers. Instead, the Marathon bombing appears to be the work of what Sageman describes as the “Third Wave” of terrorism. The Third Wave isn’t about Al Qaeda grooming recruits and dispatching them to do its bidding. It’s about young men who surf the Internet and decide on their own to write their names in history with a bomb. They get inspiration from Al Qaeda. In some cases, they even get training. But they are the ones that seek it out.

“Like Harvard, Al Qaeda did not have to recruit,” Sageman wrote. Young men came in droves, begging for an affiliation.

Sageman says the average recruit at Al Qaeda Central in the 1990s was nearly 30 years old. The average Third Waver is in his early 20s. The majority of Al Qaeda Central grew up in religious homes. About 75 percent of the Third Wavers had fairly secular childhoods.

So why would they turn to building bomb and other acts of terrorism.

For some, it was out of a warped romanticism for a homeland they barely knew; an act of rebellion against hardworking immigrant parents who brought them to the West for “a better life.” Others were US-born converts to Islam who found in terrorism a sense of camaraderie and purpose that had eluded them all their lives. A few became terrorists after years of gang-banging and drug dealing. It was an ideology that transformed their violent tendencies into something heroic. It made them feel they were on the side of the angels.

Both Tsarnaev Brothers were heavy smokers of marijuana and local police are now looking at a connection between them and the murder of the man Tamerlan once said was his only American friend.  Brendan Mess was one of the victims of a triple homicide.  The murders have never been solved.

Third Wavers “are basically trying to find out who they are,” Sageman said. “Their identities are very different from their parents. What they imagine their parents’ country to be never really was.”

That rings true of the Tsarnaev brothers, whose parents immigrated to the Boston area in 2002. The older brother, who dropped out of community college and was once accused of assaulting a girlfriend, might have been casting about for something to believe in. Searching the Internet for information about his troubled homeland in Chechnya would have yielded a trove of jihadi websites full of rhetoric about America’s “war against Islam.’’ As he became more radical, he may have dragged his more outgoing and successful younger  brother down with him.

We will know much more in the days and months ahead, but I think that Sageman and Stockman are right:  the time of terror from outside is over.  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is not the first local to be tried in Boston.  Tarek Mehanna, from nearby wealthy suburb  Sudbury  was convicted in 2011 of conspiring to support Al Qaeda. He was sentenced in April 2012 to 17½ years in federal prison.  His actions also surprised everyone who knew him.

These crimes may have been inspired by outside forces, but they are crimes in an ordinary sense and the voices, mostly Republican, clamoring for miliary tribunals and an end to immigration have it all wrong.  I think part of the venom is because Boston is a symbol of what the right calls “liberal” America.  And maybe we are.  But Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is an American citizen and deserves to be tried as one.  He is not an “enemy combatant”.   And if Sageman is right, and he appears to be, we can expect to see more of these incidents and trials in our future.  And as the right complains about unanswered questions, we have to remember that some information will be kept for trial and some questions we won’t know the answers to for a long time.

The moment of silence at 2:50 pm April 22, 2013.  Copley Square.

The moment of silence at 2:50 pm April 22, 2013. Copley Square.

The miracle for Boston is that there were only four people killed and close to 300 now reported as injured.  All of the injured are now expected to live.

The Boston Marathon bombing

I was checking into a hotel in Philadelphia minutes after the bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon and learned what had happened from the desk clerk.  For the next week, we followed the story mostly by reading the paper in the morning and sometimes catching a few snippets on television.  I had made the decision not to do email or any social media while I was gone.  I did have my cell phone on, mostly in case of a cat emergency at home or a Philly friend calling.  It was strange to be away from home and hearing about familiar places.

Things got particularly weird  for me late Thursday afternoon.  The authorities had just released the video of the suspects and in the tape was a person walking who resembled me.  I started getting text messages and calls from friends in Boston who wondered if it was me and if I were OK.  It wasn’t, but when we turned on the TV and watched the endless loop, the other “me” was easy to spot.  Blue jacket, ball cap, grey purse strap across the back.  A short woman, a little stocky.  As one of my friends said even after being reassured, “It really does look like you.”

I got home to a pile of papers and more information on the incident.  It was interesting to see what people got wrong in the early days and it should get more interesting as the investigation continues.  My husband and I were thinking that bombing like this are regular occurrences in other countries and in many ways we are lucky that our law enforcement can actually track the two kids who planted the bombs.  We will bring the survivor to trial eventually, but as someone, I think it was Senator Elizabeth Warren, said these are the early days of the investigation and this is not NCIS where crimes get solved in an hour.

James Carroll wrote this morning in the Boston Globe about the Boston Marathon, the votes in Washington against any regulation of guns, and democracy.  Here is some of what he said.

In 490 BC, the legendary runner brought urgent news to Athens of the Greek victory in Marathon over the armies of the Persian Empire. The Battle of Marathon secured a peace that ushered in the Athenian Golden Age, during which a vibrant democracy finally found the balance between the exercise of force and the fulfillment of human needs. Last week, as an American commemoration of the Battle of Marathon unfolded in Boston, that same democratic balance was dangerously stretched amid the Doric columns of Washington, where the Senate cast a tragic vote for violence.

Yet even our definition of “tragic” goes back to Athens, to the spacious imagination that flourished there — especially in the plays of Sophocles, who lived from about 497 to 406 BC. He taught us that every choice has its consequence, that character is destiny, that the exercise of power must always be measured by the health of the whole community. He also taught us that tragedy, when faced directly and bravely, leaves humans not diminished, but ennobled.

The traumas of Boston last week, culminating in the killing and pursuit of the men suspected of planting the bombs, were heartbreaking and repugnant, but they left the city whole. With all citizens commanded to “shelter in place” Friday while responsible officials conducted the manhunt, Boston was itself a character in the extraordinary drama. A vast ad hoc web of Internet users to whom law enforcement had appealed gave new meaning to the term “community policing.” The fugitives knew that an entire commonwealth had become their antagonist. This surely forced the drama’s denouement. There were no bystanders in Boston.

From Homer on, Greek culture honored competition (“agon” in Greek, which gives us the word “agony”). But in Athens, the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has explained, this spirit of contest was balanced by the politics of cooperation. The virtues of the first (discipline, bravery, self-actualization) meshed with the virtues of the second (empathy, humility, selflessness). Athenian democracy was the reconciliation of these opposites. Strength was joined to tenderness.

The Boston Marathon wonderfully embodies this balanced moral order, too: Every year the fiercely determined runners strive to be best (or for their personal best), while surrounded by multitudes whose cooperation makes the race so radically inclusive.

But death changes everything — a jolting transformation to which Greek tragedy itself gave first expression. “In the face of death,” as MacIntyre puts it, “winning and losing no longer divide.” Instead, competition drops away, and cooperation becomes the absolute mandate. That is precisely what happened in Boston, as the city held Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, and later Sean Collier in its heart.

Last week, a separate drama unfolded in Washington. “It’s almost like you can see the finish line, but you just can’t get there.” These words could have been spoken by thousands of Boston runners, but were said by the father of a shooting victim who witnessed the Senate vote on gun control.

We will, once again, show the world that we can have an investigation and fair trial.  And we will one day enact some sensible gun safety measures.  Watching the events unfold from a distance, I was proud of my fellow Bostonians, law enforcement and  public officials particularly Mayor Menino and Governor Patrick.

Candles for the victims.

Candles for the victims.