It is helpful to keep a careful perspective on acts of terrorism and other threatened violence. Resolution of difficult situations often comes through prudence and patience -- and a willingness not to respond with force, despite the apparent desire of terrorists to entice such a reaction.
The touchy standoff at the Libyan embassy in London now has been resolved by negotiating, and waiting. The British government handled the situation well, in the face of understandable desires of some of the public, and the police, to bring to justice the person responsible for having fired from the embassy, with resultant casualties.
The long-running American hostage seizure in the US embassy in Tehran was finally ended in a similar way, through diplomacy and patience. The hostages were released on the first day of the Reagan presidency, Jan. 20, 1981, which gave the new administration the opportunity to retaliate immediately if that were to be its tack. Wisely, it did not.
Patience is not the only ingredient, of course. Many people turn wholeheartedly to prayer. Vigilance is important, especially that aimed at preventing or thwarting terrorist efforts. And sophisticated electronic surveillance devices, such as those the British trained on the Libyan embassy, may also be useful.
Yet with terrorism a growing concern across the world, it is important to support those additional cautionary steps that would be helpful in preventing or dealing with terrorist incidents, so long as the steps themselves do not do violence to democratic principles.
President Reagan has just sent Congress four proposals to combat international terrorism. The thrust of the measures is to provide additional help in identifying and prosecuting people who aid international terrorism. The bills ought to be examined carefully in Congress for their effectiveness and ramifications.
The President's measures would provide prison sentences of up to 10 years, and large fines for anyone convicted of helping the military forces or terrorists of countries or groups which the secretary of state designated as involved in terrorism. They would also provide large rewards for information about terrorist acts, both within the United States and abroad, and would strengthen kidnapping and hijacking laws.
Civil-libertarians have already expressed concern that the measures may be too broadly drawn: Their views should be carefully considered.
Whether any or all of these proposals become law, it will remain important for nations to respond appropriately to provocations of terrorism. Even in the face of a terrorist incident, a responsible government must maintain the standards of its own conduct, not sink to the same level as the terrorist action. Often that's where the greatest challenge lies.