The sign reads “Hainler MezarliÄŸi."
There is a small patch of earth behind it, surrounded by a low wall and land covered in stones as if it were part of a quarry. Hainler MezarliÄŸi means “cemetery of traitors” in Turkish.
This scene is not a picture taken from a history book or a part of a historical film set in the Middle Ages. It is the cemetery in Pendik, a suburb of Istanbul, and it is the summer of 2016. If Mayor Kadir TopbaÅŸ had his way, everyone who took part in attempting to overthrow the government during the night of July 16 would be buried here. Several graves have been dug and one alleged supporter of the coup has already been buried here as one can see by the mound of dirt that rises just above the ground.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan had made it very clear to the imams of Turkey, after all, that rebels would not receive Muslim burials.
Now the scene shifts to Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, a small town in Normandy, France. Two men have murdered an 85-year-old priest with a knife while he celebrated mass in his church. The local Muslim community refuses to bury the 19-year-old terrorists. Neither the local imam nor the chairman of the Muslim Council of Normandy wants to take part in the funeral.
Back in May 2013, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who with his brother had planned and executed a deadly attack on the Boston Marathon, was buried in a small Muslim cemetery in the U.S. state of Virginia. Local authorities as well as the Tsarnaev family searched for more than a month to find a cemetery willing to bury Tamerlan.
In Worcester, Massachusetts, on May 4, 2013, as the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev awaits burial — Photo: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro U.S./ZUMA
How is a society supposed to deal with the dead who caused so much suffering to its people?
This is the question that the southern German state of Bavaria now faces. The bodies of the terrorists who carried out recent attacks in both Ansbach and Würzburg have not been released by the investigating authorities as of yet, but it has already become clear that the funeral of these two young men poses a challenge for both the authorities and society in general.
Würzburg's district administration, for example, has yet to decide what shall be done with the body of a young refugee who used an axe to attack and severely injure passengers on a train and was subsequently shot dead by police. “It may be assumed that the local administration of the [attacker's] place of residence is responsible in the first instance," said a spokeswoman from the Würzburg district administration. "But we have to yet establish if this is also the case if the deceased is Muslim.”
But what shall be done if Muslim communities refuse to bury suicidal terrorists, as has happened France and the U.S.? “In general, a Muslim should get a Muslim burial,” says Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Muslim Committee of Germany. “But theologically speaking an imam or his community has no obligation or duty to take part in a funeral.”
The rituals, he explains, are simple, and a terrorist's family members could perform them on their own. But finding a community willing to provide a place of burial is another matter.
Mazyek understands the reactions of people in France and the U.S. “The communities are trying to distance themselves from these people because they feel repulsed by their actions," he said. "But human dignity is inviolable, no matter the individual's actions. Everyone has the right to a decent burial.”
Mazyek explains that the function of a burial is not to anticipate God's wrath. “Through the burial we surrender the body to the highest of judges.” How to deal with such situations is a decision for each community, which is what the Central Committee of Muslims told the Bavarian authorities.
One thing is for certain: the local authorities should take care not to bury the terrorists too close to the family plots of any victims.