The Grateful Dead

Copyright © by Len Holman, 5/15/13


  The disposition of the dead is fraught with emotional, political, social, psychological, legal, and mythological (including the realms of the sacred) issues. Because we presently don’t have the technology or money or will to fire a rocket filled with corpses into the sun, we find ourselves dealing with the problem of dealing with the dead in some more appropriate or convenient way. Usually, this is a matter for familial consideration—a time of remembering, grieving, and the laying to rest of a loved one, a time of memorial and finality.  In the case of a “terrorist,” however, this common way of seeing the burial process is not so common. 

  The older brother of the siblings who bombed the Boston Marathon was killed and then the trouble started.  Tamerlan Tsarnaev was buried at Al-Barzakh Muslim cemetery in Doswell, Virginia, about 25 miles north of Richmond.  He is a Muslim and Muslims have a burial tradition, so there it is.  Except for the uproar. The chairman of the Caroline County board of supervisors, where the burial took place, seems flustered, embarrassed, and outraged that such a notorious, hateful, and prominent terrorist would be buried in the sacred soil of Virginia, and he warned that everything better have gone “by the book,” or there would be consequences. 

  Well, it turns out that everything DID go by the book, that an interfaith coalition was responsible to taking care of the paperwork and the burial, and that there is nothing anyone can officially do about it.  This seems to be a case of American horror and fear of the very word “terrorist” rather than merely a case of there being no space in the ground to bury someone.  If terrorists have as their goal the striking of fear in American hearts, and the knee-jerk reaction to that fear of suspending both common decency and the constitution, then they have achieved some remarkable victories.  Just say the word “terrorism” and the juices in congressional subcommittees starts to flow, and the Patriotic American, so beloved of Fox News, holds up signs about Tsarnaev being thrown out with the trash. 

  The brothers did a pretty horrible thing, but the body count was far less than what is counted weekly in Chicago, for instance, or the dead at Sandy Hook Elementary, or the Colorado theater shooting or—especially this—Tim McVeigh’s fertilizer bomb in Oklahoma.  The Ariel Castro case is instructive.  This man kidnapped, and held captive, three girls, now women, for a decade, impregnating two of them, one of which was allowed to bring her child to term, while the other was reported forced to abort multiple times through starvation and physical abuse.  If this isn’t terrorism, what is? 

  But we won’t have to worry about Castro for a long while because he’ll be in the slammer until aliens land on the White House lawn.  If he’s killed in prison or dies of old age, THEN Americans can vent about where to put this guy.  And what about all the corporations, banks, lending institutions, and insurance companies which pay little, expect much, lay off people at will, bust unions, don’t forgive mortgages, and don’t lend money to people who need it.  That’s a form of social terror which is becoming endemic to our system of “free enterprise.”  Our government terrorizes people overseas every day by flying drones over them.  Their terror comes, as ours does, from not knowing when death will strike, from not knowing who will survive and who will not.  Women worldwide are terrorized daily, as are children and the elderly.  We don’t see any of that on CNN unless it has really good graphics. 

  what’s the deal with terrorism?  Is it the World Trade Towers going down?  Or is it Obama or Hillary or socialism or the government coming to take our guns?  These are just symptoms or a malaise which—if the U.S. wants to be that “shining city on a hill”—needs to be recognized and ameliorated or eliminated.  It is that realization, rising to the American consciousness, that we are no longer invulnerable, that our nose can be bloodied, that it isn’t nukes we have to worry about so much, it’s some backpack-wearing lone wolf with a grudge.  And as an attendant, horrifying thought to that is the idea that no matter how muscular our military is, no matter how many SEAL teams or Force Recon units we can deploy, we can’t cover every crack in our armor.  Some mosquito is bound to get in and bound to get a taste of our blood.

  If we were all Buddhists, we might be talking karma right about now, but we are not, so we fret because we have no formula for dealing with this new, terrible, seeming-never-to-be-ended reality.  We will, no doubt, curtail more citizen freedom, and no doubt capture—or try to—the face of everyone on every street on ubiquitous cameras, and we will spend tons of money doing all this and more on bigger and better military toys, all the while cutting funds to those here at home who have little or no pull on K Street.  We’ll do all that, but we will still be terrorized.


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